Thursday, September 30, 2010

A simple recipe for asparagus

Asparagus, one of the harbingers of spring, has started appearing in the shops. Asparagus is a cold weather crop, thought to come from the Mediterranean. Keith Smith (1995) tells me that frescos on Egyptian tombs dated to 3000BC depict asparagus 'bunched and tied for market just as it is today'.

I like to prepare asparagus simply to highlight its delicate flavour. This recipe is a Japanese style hollandaise sauce. It is a bit lighter than the classic hollandaise recipe because it omits the butter. It has a lovely, light texture with a tang that doesn't overpower the asparagus.

This recipe is from
A Little Taste of Japan by Jane Lawson. It really is simple, so give it a try.

Sauce ingredients
3 egg yolks
60ml (1/4 cup) Japanese rice vinegar
1 tbls mirin
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tbls dashi (I substituted 2 tbls salted water for dashi)

Put all the ingredients in a small saucepan and whisk to combine well. Sit the pan over a low heat and stir the sauce constantly for 3-4 minutes, or until smooth and thickened slightly. Remove from the heat. Put the pan on top of a bowl of ice and stir until cold.

The asparagus only needs to be cooked for a couple of minutes. For a cold dish, plunge it into cold water to stop the cooking process.

Arranged steamed or lightly boiled asparagus on a plate then pour over the sauce.

And that's it! Simple.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Alvin's invention test recipe - Caramelised pork belly with chilli vinegar and saffron rice

I gave up eating pork in my early 20s. 'Why?" I ask myself now. It has become one of my favourite meats. When properly cooked it is moist, succulent and full of flavour. I absolutely love it! I find pork chops a great quick, weekday meal and really enjoy a rolled roast pork cooked on the BBQ. I particularly like Black Berkshire pork, also known as Kurobota, which produces a very rich and sweet meat due to it's higher fat content. I first tried this in Japan a few years ago, and it is becoming increasingly available here.

Now onto pork belly, which is seen more frequently on restaurant menus. More often than not it is the other half's dish of choice if it's available when we eat out. Having never cooked it before I was inspired by to give it a try by Alvin's invention test recipe on MasterChef - Caramelised pork belly with chilli vinegar and saffron rice

This is the second time I've made this recipe and I have mixed feelings about it. Firstly, let's talk about the MasterChef effect and gouging. I'll start by stating that I think MasterChef is great for getting people to try new dishes and cook with ingredients that aren't normally on their radar. My favourite local butcher shop shows episodes of the show and seem to watch it when it's on. I can go into the shop the with a vague recollection of a cut of meat cooked with the previous night and they will know what it is.

When I first made this recipe it was at the height of the MasterChef frenzy. I paid $20 a kilogram for unboned pork belly at a butchers I don't normally shop at. The second time I bought the boned pork belly at Coles and paid $12.50 a kilogram. Today I went into my local butcher and they had Otway organic pork belly for $10.99 a kilogram. Yep, I was gouged that first time.

Secondly it takes a long time. It takes me over 3 hours by the time I've prepped everything, cooked and assembled the dish.

Thirdly, it makes a bit of a mess, a lot actually, particularly when you fry the pork cubes in the peanut oil - watch out! The oil splatters everywhere when the pork is added. It's a war-zone. And I'm not that convinced that this step should be included at all. How does it add value to the dish, except for calorific value? The pork to me is perfectly delicious just after it has been braised, at the end of step one. Why fry it? I'm interested to know the reason for this. If anyone knows drop me a line.

Perfectly cooked at the end of a good braising - just right for a Cuban sandwich

In the episode when Alvin made this recipe, Gary Mehigan picked up the dish and pretended to steal it away from the other judges. I'm not sure why. The end result was tasty but it didn't have the 'wow' factor for me. Not enough to make it again. I will keep searching for and trying out pork belly recipes. Even though I don't think I will make this recipe again, it has given me the the confidence to cook with this cut of meat. And that is a plus.

The braising has given me an idea though for preparing a rolled piece of pork for barbecuing, by braising it in the stock first and then using the caramel sauce for as a marinade to be brushed on as it's being cooked.

If you make this recipe and can't find all the ingredients, here a couple of possible substitutes:

shaoxing wine - sherry
karamel masakan - dark corn syrup
black sesame seeds - toasted sesame seeds

Any pork belly recipes welcome!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Weekend Soup! - Pumpkin Soup

This weekend's soup is nothing too complicated. For pumpkin soup I don't think a strict recipe is really necessary, so what I am going to give you are some approximations, for you to adjust as you please.


1-2 tbls. of olive oil
1.5 kg of pumpkin
1 stick of celery
About a 1/4 of a capsicum
Some garlic - couple of cloves or teaspoon of crushed garlic
(or an onion in lieu of the celery and capsicum. I use these because I am meant to avoid onions due to my fructan intolerance).
Approx. 1 litre of chicken stock (you may need more)
salt and pepper

Chop the pumpkin into small pieces, approximately 3 to 4 cms in diameter. Now pop the pumpkin into the oven to roast. This technique is used by Beverley Sutherland-Smith, which I really like because it intensifies the flavour.

Chop the celery and capsicum, crush the garlic and cook these off in the olive oil for a few minutes. Now, I was going to add a slug of vermouth at this point a la Nigella, but forgot to. But you can. Cook it off if you do.

Add the pumpkin and stock. I like my pumpkin soup quite thick so just cover the pumpkin with the stock. Add more if you like it a bit looser.

Give everything a stir and cook until the pumpkin is very soft and starts to break up. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Once the soup is cooked let it cool down. Blitz it in a food processor, use a stick blender or you can even mash it.

S. likes a bit of bulk to his soups, so I added a can of chickpeas prior to reheating the soup. You could add some small pasta or risoni instead if you like. Just make sure to cook these off properly - add some more stock if needed.


Monday, September 6, 2010

I've got a confession...

Last week Myf Warhurst wrote in The Age on that most recent of social phenomena, lining up at the latest 'hot' cafe for breakfast.

I must confess to doing this once, and once only. It was for the king of breakfasts, Bills. It was worth it. My breakfast of sweet corn fritters with roast tomato, spinach and bacon was sublime. S. describes his choice of ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter as 'Magnificent. If I was going to be shot at dawn, I would ask for Bill's ricotta hotcakes with fresh banana and honeycomb butter and a tot of rum as my last meal'. Plus I got to see Bill Grainger in person, hanging out in the kitchen for a while helping his staff. I nearly wet my pants with excitement.

I've never waited in line again and I don't think I will. You see, when I go out to eat I'm usually hungry and not at all inclined to wait more fifteen minutes for a table, if it was worth it. No more. I'd get too tetchy, quite possibly a bit stabby with hunger (Although S. has just pointed out to me that we did wait in line for a western style table at the oyster restaurant on Miyajima Island. But we've only waited this once, nothing else since. And it was worth it - hot, crumbed fried oysters with Japanese-style curry on rice on a wet, wet day. Just the thing). I'm interested to know what others think:

Do you wait in line for breakfast?

Would you wait in line for breakfast?

Is it always worth the wait?

Don't be shy to start a discussion!