Thursday, 29 January 2015

Aussie Meat Pie and Sour Cream Pastry (Beef Pie)


Everyone loves a good meat pie, and even though it takes a bit of work it is well worth the effort, even in the summer  heat. It is also an economical meal, and feeds a crowd, or means you have leftovers for a couple of days. Buying good quality chuck steak is the secret, and I ask the butcher to slice it for me from a whole chuck and then dice it myself into 3 cm cubes.

MEAT FILLING:

Preheat the oven to 160 deg. C.

Ingredients:

1 kg chuck steak, or gravy beef, diced into 3cm cubes
4 tablespoons flour
salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons oil
1 large onion, diced
200g thick-cut, streaky bacon, sliced into batons or lardons
300ml dark ale
500ml (2 cups) beef stock
2 carrots, chopped (optional)
4 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons tomato sauce

Let's cook:

Heat the oven to 160 deg. C

Toss the meat with flour seasoned with some salt and pepper

Heat half the oil in a large frying pan and fry the meat in two batches until brown, then transfer the meat into a large, ovenproof casserole dish.

Add more oil to the pan, if needed, and fry the onion until just softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the bacon and cook until just coloured. Add the onion and bacon to the meat.

Deglaze the pan with some of the ale and add to the casserole dish along with the remaining ingredients. ie vegetables, sauces and herbs. Bring the casserole in the dish to  simmering point on the stove top and then  cover and place very carefully in the oven for 2 1/2 hours on 160 deg C.

Remove casserole dish from the oven with good oven mitts, remove the lid and continue cooking on the stove top until the liquid has reduced and thickened and the meat is very tender. Mushrooms can be added at this point if you like them. This filling can be made ahead of time and kept covered in the refrigerator until needed to fill the pie and be topped with sour cream pastry.

This recipe has been adapted from Matt Preston's latest recipe and works beautifully.I have also used red wine instead of the beer, and left out the bacon as well, it just depends on how Aussie you want your pie to be. Worcestershire sauce can also be used instead of the balsamic sauce.

SOUR CREAM PASTRY: (Maggie Beer's recipe)

200g unsalted butter, chilled
250g plain flour
salt flakes
125ml sour cream
1 egg, beaten with a little water, to glaze

To make the pastry, dice the butter and place in your food processor along with the flour and a pinch of salt, and pulse until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and continue to pulse until the dough combines.Turn out onto a clean surface and quickly form into a ball. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until needed. It was a very hot day with high humidity when I made my first batch of this pastry, and I needed to place it in the freezer and then slightly thaw it, before it was workable.

When you are ready to bake your pie, preheat the oven to 180 deg. C.

Place the meat in a small oven dish, about 24 x 18cm. Roll the chilled pastry out until 3mm thick, lay it over the top of the pie using your rolling pin, and trim the edges. You can trim the pastry to a little larger than the dish and fold it back on itself or cut some shapes to decorate the top, whatever you prefer.

Brush the top of the pie with beaten egg glaze, and bake in the oven for about 30 minutes. The top of the pie should be golden brown and the filling piping hot.

Serves 6.


Saturday, 24 January 2015

Easy Vegetable Quiche Recipe



Quiche is such an easy and tasty solution on those nights when there has been no time to prepare ahead and shop for special ingredients. Most of the ingredients except perhaps the cream, are fairly standard items in most kitchens. I grow my own herbs, and generally have a few different types of vegetables on hand so preparation is very simple.  I  often also serve quiche for a nutritious and sustaining lunch and everyone always enjoys it.

This is a versatile recipe where the vegetables, herbs and cheese used are all optional according to what you have on hand, and the real bonus is that I don't need to make pastry, although I do love a nice, crisp pastry.

This is my version of the recipe my dear friend Noela gave me many years ago, and brings back many pleasant memories whenever I bake it.

Ingredients:
  • 4 free range eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup Self Raising Flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup fresh cream or low fat sour cream
  • 3 tablespoons melted butter
  • 1 1/2 cups grated tasty low fat cheese
  • 2 cups finely chopped vegetables and ham (including any combination of capsicum, celery, zucchini, mushrooms, broccoli, fresh asparagus and thawed frozen peas) (ham is also optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped herbs including flat leaf parsley and 2 teaspoons chopped thyme (Thyme is quite a strongly flavoured herb so not as much is needed in a recipe)
Let's Cook:

1. Combine beaten eggs, flour, milk, cream and butter. Whisk until all lumps have disappeared and it is a nice, even consistency.

2. Stir in cheese, herbs  and vegetable filling. Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. Pour into a 24 cm  lightly greased quiche or pie dish.

4. Garnish the surface with thinly sliced capsicum, or thinly sliced zucchini.

5. Bake at 180 deg. c for 40 mins. or until cooked and nicely browned.

Serve with a crisp tossed salad and vinaigrette.





Thursday, 22 January 2015

ITALIAN APPLE AND COCONUT CAKE




1 dessertspoon plain flour
2 Granny Smith apples or any other cooking apples
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup raisins
1 cup walnuts ( with extra to sprinkle on top before baking)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup shredded (not desiccated) coconut
1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
3 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
150g butter, melted
2 tablespoons Amaretto liqueur (or use almond essence)
Icing sugar (for decoration)

Method:
  1. Set oven to 180 deg. C(350 deg. F) and grease a 23cm spring form cake pan or just a round cake tin.
  2. Sprinkle a dessertspoon of plain flour into the tin and coat the inside of the tin lightly with the flour.
  3. Wash the apples well and dry with a clean cloth. Leave the apples unpeeled. With peel on, core and dice the apples into small chunks about one and a half cm square. Toss the apple chunks in a small quantity of lemon juice to avoid them browning, then drain off the lemon juice and place the apple into a large mixing bowl.
  4. Tip the walnuts onto a cutting board and sprinkle with one tablespoon sugar. Chop the walnuts, or crush under a rolling pin using greaseproof paper to cover the nuts, or use a food processor,   and add with sugar to the mixing bowl containing the apples.
  5. Into the same mixing bowl, add the raisins and coconut. Mix well.
  6. Into a separate large mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  7. Into a third (small) mixing) bowl, break the eggs, add sugar and beat with an electric mixer until light and lemon-coloured.
  8. Still beating the egg mixture, add the melted butter and the liqueur or essence.
  9. Make a well in the centre of the flour mixture and add the egg mixture. Stir until well combined.
  10. Add the apple mixture to the flour and egg mixture. Stir until well combined. At this stage it may seem that you have too much apple and not enough cake mix. Don't worry, the cake will turn out beautifully.
  11. Turn the mixture into the prepared cake tin. If you desire sprinkle some walnuts on top.
  12. Bake at 180 deg. C or 350 deg. F on the centre shelf of the oven for about 45 to 50 minutes or until the top of the cake has turned a nice golden brown. To test whether the cake is cooked, insert a metal skewer into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cake is cooked.
  13. Allow to cool, sprinkle with icing sugar and serve with King Island cream.
TIP:  If you don't have any Amaretto liqueur, you can use almond essence. The amount you need to use will depend on the strength of the essence you buy. Use your own judgement - strong essence may need only a few drops, a weaker essence may require half a teaspoon.

Enjoy!

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Roast eggplants or aubergines with sweet and sour tomatoes



Eggplants or aubergines lend themselves to so many cultural cooking styles by happily absorbing the flavours bestowed upon them. This recipe is a version of the classic Middle Eastern recipe imam biyaldi, meaning "the Imam swooned", because it was so delicious. This is a healthier version though, using less olive oil, and adapting some flavours form the Sicilian aubergine dish, caponata. This is my version of the wonderful recipe provided by  Hugh at River Cottage.

I grow my own eggplants, and try to cook them the same day that they are picked when they are still delightfully crisp and not bitter. They are organically grown, assisted by the very useful and wonderful Ladybird Beetles or Ladybugs (Coccinellidae) busily working away on the leaves to remove all of the aphids which eggplant leaves seem to attract in the North. Interestingly though, the Ladybugs are considered useful insects, and not bugs by entomologists.

Throughout time there have been superstitious beliefs that it was unlucky to kill a ladybird, which is a great thing because they are so useful to the environment and the success of our crops. Another superstition was that if a ladybird lands on you and you chant the following verse, your wish will come true if it flies away.  I grew up knowing the verse, taught to me by my Mum, and probably used by farmers who instead of killing the prolific ladybirds in their fields tried to convince them to fly home. So if a ladybird lands on you, always chant the following verse, and bring some good luck.

Ladybird, ladybird fly away home,
Your house is on fire and your children are gone,
All except one,
And her name is Ann,
And she hid under the baking pan.

For more information on Australian Ladybirds go to: http://www.ento.csiro.au/biology/ladybirds/ladybirds.htm

I was also very fortunate to have organically grown, and freshly harvested garlic to use in this recipe, from Eungella, near Mackay, North Queensland, a thoughtful gift from my wonderful neighbour Ann.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 eggplants (about 750 g in total)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or canola oil
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 large red or brown onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar (ideally apple balsamic)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon tomato puree
50g macro Organic Thompson Raisins, sultanas (or whatever you have on hand)
250g Woolworths Gold Australian Sweet Solanato or cherry tomatoes, halved (or home grown if possible)
50g pine nuts, lightly toasted
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Chopped flat-leaf parsley or mint, to finish (optional) -
(I used parsley because my home grown mint didn't survive in the heat whilst we were away, but I think mint would provide a crisper flavour)

Preheat the oven to 190 deg C/Gas 5.

Halve each aubergine down the middle, from stalk to base. Use a sharp knife to make diagonal cuts deep into the cut side of the flesh, going almost through to the skin but not quite, about 1.5 cm apart. Repeat the other way to create a diamond pattern.

Measure out 2 tablespoons of the oil and brush it all over the cut aubergine flesh, using a pastry brush to work it into the cuts. Now stuff the slices of garlic into the cuts so that each aubergine half has a good share of garlic. Season the flesh well with salt and pepper. Put the aubergine halves in a large roasting dish and bake for 30 minutes.

Combine the onion, balsamic vinegar, sugar, tomato puree, sultanas or raisins and remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a large bowl. Mix well, then stir in the tomatoes.

After the first 30 minutes, the eggplants should be looking nice and tender and browning off. Add the onion and tomato mixture to the roasting dish, pushing it around the aubergine halves so they are snugly surrounded but not covered. Trickle 100ml water over the tomatoes and onions (not the aubergines) and return the whole lot to the oven for another 30 minutes.

As soon as the dish comes out of the oven, spoon the soft onions and tomatoes and all their juices on top of the aubergines, so each one has a nice covering. Leave to settle for 10 minutes or so, then serve, scattered with the toasted pine nuts, and parsley or mint, if using. Serve with a green salad and/or rice.

This is such a satisfying dish and tastes even better the following day when reheated as leftovers.

So dear reader do you enjoy the old superstitions and rhymes you were taught when growing up about plants and insects, and often think about them when you are wandering about in your garden or cooking?




Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Growing Turmeric and it's health benefits


Turmeric, planted two months ago

New Guinea bottle brush offering some  shade for the turmeric growing below


Turmeric along with ginger, is now recognised as a great anti-inflammatory, and will increase blood circulation,  therefore increasing energy levels. There is also active research into its value for preventing dementia. Instead of just using powdered turmeric, grate the fresh root along with fresh ginger, and use them in your scrambled eggs for a zingy start to the day.
Turmeric powder
We have just returned home from holidaying in lush, tropical Cairns over Christmas, and it is always with excitement that on our return we  head straight for our garden to discover what has survived during what must be the hottest time of the year. The stars of the show this time are the turmeric and the capsicum plants. I planted the capsicums from seedlings three months ago, and now have fully sized green capsicums, looking forward to their first blush of ripening red.

The turmeric roots (rhizomes) however spent many weeks on my laundry windowsill during October and November last year, in bottles filled with moistened brown paper and newspaper, waiting for the first shoots to appear, and they did. Remember the science experiments we did in Primary school, with beans in bottles waiting for the first shoots to appear. It still works. I collected turmeric roots from various sources and now have quite a productive patch of turmeric growing well in the garden, some bright orange and some yellow.
Curcuma longa (Haldi) W IMG 2440.jpg
Curcuma longa.  Turmeric flowers
Turmeric is a perennial plant of the ginger family,  meaning it should last for two years, however the foliage generally dies back in winter. It should also produce attractive flowers. I am now waiting, hoping that my turmeric plants produce flowers.
Native turmeric in the bush near Cooktown, Northern Australia

The commercial growers dig up the turmeric, sell the bulk of the crop, and plant new roots. I store what I need, and start  sprouting some more for the following summer's planting. As we all know, the dried aromatic root has been ground to a brilliant yellow powder and used in commercial curry powders in the East for centuries, as well as being used as an ingredient in chutneys and pickles. Visit any Turkish or Eastern bazaar and turmeric is central to the kaleidoscope of colours found there, as is it's scent.

One of the first recipe books I was ever given and which I still treasure is Rosemary Hemphill's "Cooking with herbs and spices." In her chapter on turmeric, her recipes for Kedgeree, tropical potato salad, French dressings, devilled eggs, and fish stews all used powdered turmeric. Now with the availability of fresh turmeric root at local markets, and friend's gardens, we should all be looking after our health and grating fresh turmeric into our salads, our egg dishes, our fish dishes for that extra flavour, colour and zing. However don't despair, powdered turmeric will still provide some limited health benefits and wonderful flavour and colour to your dishes.

If you are travelling or camping, fresh turmeric rhizomes are very transportable, just take your grater with you and your plastic gloves. Remember, though, it will stain your hands yellow. It is used as a dye in the East for cottons and silks, but not hands.

Do you prefer to cook with powdered or fresh turmeric? Please tell me dear reader if you have been successful with growing turmeric or do you buy turmeric root from the supermarket?