Not your average pork & beans

Pork rib eye & feta crumble

I posted a recipe the other day for George Calombaris' baked beans that are used in this dish. Like the beans this recipe comes from his cookbook The Press Club, and like the beans it didn't quite live up to its promise. The principles are there — baked beans is a classical pairing with pork and a classic in itself — but in making both of them I found myself going against my own cooking instincts in order to stay faithful to the recipe.

There are plenty of great things about this dish, don't get me the wrong. The idea of juicy pork topped with hearty beans and a salty, crispy crumble sounds great, doesn't it? What's more, Calombaris recommends serving it with a jus infused with Greek coffee, and the flavours work terrifically.

Unfortunately the feta crumble topping — the very thing that sets this recipe apart from regular old pork and beans — lets it down. It didn't feel right to be mixing the crumble ingredients together with the saucy baked beans, but I did it anyway. The results were predictable: unpleasantly soggy in the middle, and poorly crisped on the outside. It's hard to believe that they would make it this way in the restaurant.

I don't want to shamelessly plunder another of the book's recipes, especially since it's nothing to write home about. Instead a short description should suffice:

Pork rib eye with feta crumble

Full recipe in George Calombaris' The Press Club cookbook.

Combine bread crumbs, diced red onion, and crumbled feta and stir this through a portion of baked beans. Refrigerate until needed. Fry a pork rib chop on both sides in oil and butter until medium/medium-well. Top some of the crumble & bean mixture and grill under the broiler until browned on top. Serve with greek coffee jus.

A bit disappointing really, but you haven't heard the last of feta crumble.

My intestines, they hurt

Jerusalem artichoke soup

Oh God, kill me now. As I write this I sit gripped with pain, dreading the inevitability that the loud contortions of my small bowel are heralding. Apparently it's the inulin. I take small comfort in the words of John Goodyer who understands my predicament:

Written in 1621 of Jerusalem artichokes, "Which way soever they be dressed and eaten, they stir and cause a filthy loathsome stinking wind within the body, thereby causing the belly to be pained and tormented, and are a meat more fit for swine than men."

And yet a part of me is looking forward to the leftovers. A small percentage of people are intolerant of inulin-rich ingredients such as Jerusalem artichokes, and it bugs the hell out of me that there's a food I can't eat — even moreso that it's a delicious food.

Prior to making this soup, my only experience with Jerusalem artichokes was of buying one years ago by mistake and wondering what the hell was wrong with my ginger. While they might look like ginger, these tubers actually have an earthy taste, and a marvellously creamy texture when boiled for a soup. I could see them pairing very well with mushrooms, and while I'm against arbitrary truffing in an effort to make thing fancier a drizzle of truffle oil would pair quite nicely with that earthiness.

This is a delicious and extremely simple soup to make, and rest assured that only a small number can't handle the hardcore taste sensation that is Jerusalem artichoke.

Jerusalem artichoke soup

Ingredients (makes 2 generous servings):

  • 500g Jerusalem artichokes peeled and sliced
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 a small celery stick, finely diced
  • 1 small clove garlic, minced
  • Splash of white wine
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tbsp of butter for cooking plus a further tbsp to finish
  • 500ml chicken stock (or vegetable)
  • 1/4 cup cream
  • Healthy grating of nutmeg
  • Salt & white pepper

1. Cook the shallots, celery, and garlic in 2 tbsp of butter over a low heat until translucent, careful not to brown them. Add a splash of white wine and turn the heat up, simmering for 1 minute.
2. Add the sliced Jerusalem artichokes, mustard, nutmeg, chicken stock, and 500 ml of water and bring to a simmer. Simmer for for 20 minutes or until everything is tender, then puree with a stick blender and (optional) strain through a fine mesh sieve.
3. To finish, stir in the cream and remaining butter over gentle heat and season to taste. Drizzle with a grassy extra-virgin olive oil.

George Calombaris' baked beans

This is a quick entry to post a baked beans recipe from George Calombaris' book The Press Club that I'm using in a couple of upcoming posts. While it won't take you to baked beans heaven — it's not even baked — it's a fairly solid recipe that can be made in bulk and frozen, eaten on its own with a chunk of bread or used to accompany pretty much anything.

George Calombaris' baked beans

Ingredients:

  • 1kg dried cannellini beans
  • 2 carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 4 sticks of celery, finely diced
  • 2 brown onions, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup tomato ketchup
  • 4 cups passata (puréed tomatoes)
  • 1.25 cups sherry vinegar
  • 4 cups of brown chicken stock (or vegetable stock)
  • Olive oil

1. Soak the cannellini beans overnight submerged in water.
2. Sweat the diced vegetables over a medium heat in 3 tbsp of olive oil under translucent.
3. Add the remaining ingredients (except the beans) and bring to a simmer.
4. Strain the beans and add them to the pot. Cook for 5 hours or until the beans are just tender and have absorbed the stock.

Grilled lamb with white bean skordalia

Grilled lamb neck with white bean skordalia

I've gushed about Food Safari before, but is it okay if I gush a little more? Food Safari is a show about international cuisines that somehow manages to perfectly capture what it is to eat and cook in Australia. We don't have any unifying culinary tradition, but what we do have is a diverse range of high quality produce, and people of every background who are proud of their culture. There are the douchebags among us that would demand we all assimilate into one big ball of bland, but there's something pretty cool about the old Italian woman who is able to live and work here for 45 years but still has to speak to me in very broken English with her son translating. The fact that you can get away with it and still be part of a large, supported, mainstream community and not be marginalised is an achievement, and we're better for it.

The Greek community is huge in Australia. Melbourne is in fact noteworthy for having the largest Greek population of any city outside of Athens. It's not surprising that Melbourne is where you will find George Calombaris and his three restaurants. His flagship Press Club is famous for its modern Greek food, but he's not averse to slumming it.

This dish is more homestyle: neck of lamb braised with yoghurt & onion until, sliced and chargrilled, and served on white bean skordalia with a parsley and fennel salad. If it sounds finicky don't be put off, it's actually very simple. It's a great dish (I would however make the braise both sweeter and saltier next time) and an excellent way of serving front and center an otherwise tough cut of lamb. The standout though is the white bean skordalia which is pleasantly tart and full of flavour. I used a couple of spoonfuls with dinner, and scooped the rest up with crusty bread for lunch the next day.

Get the recipes and videos at the Food Safari website:

* The keen-eyed will notice that my fennel & parsley salad has fennel seeds in place of fresh fennel. This last-second substitution was necessitated by a dodgy fennel bulb

Outsmarted by a frittata

Smoked cod & goat's cheese frittata

Ahh frittatas, when will I learn? If I had a dollar for every time I've been stirred up by a frittata recipe, only to make it, eat it, and find that it tastes just as eggy as every other frittata I've ever had, I could buy myself pancakes every Sunday for the rest of the year. I'm the same way with omelettes — they're easy and sound great in theory, and this manages to overcome the years of experience that have taught me I just can't handle all that egg.

This frittata was one such siren, and although I didn't appreciate it it's possible that you might. The recipe was from an old copy of Delicious Magazine. The magazine itself is back home (I'm out of town for work), so let me apologise in advance for what will be a very vague set of instructions.

Smoked cod & goat's cheese frittata

Ingredients:

  • Smoked cod
  • Goat's cheese
  • Eggs
  • Cream
  • Bread, crusts removed and torn into small pieces
  • Chives, finely chopped
  • Butter
  • Salt & cracked pepper, to taste

1. Place the whole piece of cod in a pan and add just enough water to cover. Turn on the heat and bring to a low simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes, then remove the cod, drain it, and flake into chunks.
2. Beat together the eggs, cream (roughly 1/3 cup of cream for every 3 eggs), chives, salt & pepper. Stir in the bread and cod pieces (couldn't help myself).
3. Heat a small, oven-safe frying pan (I used a well-seasoned cast iron pan) to medium, then add a tablespoon of butter and tilt the pan to coat the bottom and sides with butter as it melts.
4. Preheat the broiler. Add the egg mixture and cook gently until it is just set all the way up the sides and still a wobbly in the centre (about 10 minutes). Dot the top of the frittata with 1 cm pieces of goat's cheese, pushing these so they are just submerged. Put the whole thing under the broiler and cook for a further 5 minutes, until browned on top.

Spice advice: Cumin

Lamb & chana dal curry

Does anyone remember 'spice advice'? A part of me knew that promising a semi-regular feature would be doomed to failure. I put together this recipe for a spice advice feature on cumin, and while I won't go through the whole rigmarole of describing cumin in excruciating detail, the recipe was already written and the photograph already taken, so it would be foolish not to get it out there.

What I will say about cumin is that it is the best. It's never going to have the surprising, special-occasion wow factor that spices like saffron have, but it's an all-rounder, a staple of so many varied cuisines that it deserves maximum respect. As with many spices, it loves a bit of toasting.

Here I used it to make a curry of lamb & chana dal. I may not have taken the most appetizing photo, but believe me when I say that this is a hearty and comforting dish.

Lamb & chana dal curry

Ingredients:

  • 500g lamb, diced1
  • 130g (3/4 cup) chana dal
  • 2.5 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 4-5 small dried chillies
  • 1/2 medium onion, finely diced
  • 1/4 tsp asafoetida
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 4 cloves
  • 1 tbsp garlic & ginger paste
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1/2 cup of canned tomatoes
  • 1 T ghee
  • Peanut/vegetable/canola oil
  • Salt, to taste

1. Toast the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and dried chillies over a gentle heat for about 5 minutes until fragrant, then remove to a spice grinder and grind to a powder.
2. Sauté the onion with the asafoetida, cloves, cinnamon stick, and a pinch of salt for 5 minutes to allow the onion to begin to go translucent. Add the garlic & ginger paste and fresh garlic and cook for another minute.
3. Pour in the spice powder and canned tomatoes and cook over a medium heat until the tomatoes start to break down. Add the diced lamb and chana dal with enough water to just cover, and bring to a boil.
4. Reduce the heat to a simmer, and simmer covered for 2 hours or until the lamb and dal are tender. If it's looking too dry, top up with a little extra water. Alternately if it's looking too wet, remove the lid and simmer uncovered to reduce. Salt to taste, and then stir in the ghee so it melts through the curry. For the best flavour, make this one day before serving.

(1) Use a braising cut such as lamb neck.

Greek village salad

Greek village salad

As I was embarking on the long walk home at 8 o'clock this morning after a huge night out (so much for being busy with work), I thought about simplicity. I watched the the non-hungover public go about their Saturday morning routines — jogging club with old friends, bacon & eggs at a café, walking the dog by the river. It was nice. Why complicate things?

A good village salad is crisp, fresh, cool, and bright. It has the salty intensity of feta and olives, and the sharp tang of vinegar but is never harsh and overwhelming. It's great by itself, with some fresh bread, or if you're really keen a slab of tender, slow roasted lamb.

Greek village salad

This is less of a recipe and more of an ingredient list.

Ingredients1:

  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Shallot, halved then very thinly sliced
  • Kalamata olives, pitted
  • Greek feta
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Dried greek oregano2
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Cracked black pepper

1. Chop the cucumber and tomato into medium-sized chunks. Chop or crumble the feta into 1 cm pieces. Place the cucumber, tomato, olives, feta, and shallots in a large bowl.
2. Sprinkle with a little pepper and a little oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar (I use roughly a 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar). Toss to combine, serve.

1. It should go without saying to use the best ingredients. A ripe tomato, fresh feta, and the best olive oil you can find.
2. This is different from most of the dried oregano you find in supermarkets, it's fragrant and intense. Find it at ethnic delis, it comes as a large bunch, dried whole, stalk and all. To use break of what you need and rub it between your fingers to separate the herb from the twigs.

The dog ate my blog posts

It's been over a month since I last posted, a lifetime in the world of blogging. This is bad. I regret how the site has stagnated and absolutely do not want it to become yet another ghost town of a blog.

There are several reasons why things have slowed down (where not moving is just a particularly severe form of moving slowly), and these can be broadly grouped into (a) reasons relating to time pressures; and (b) reasons relating to creativity. One could argue that there exists a third group — (c) reasons relating to my new Xbox — but come on, it's so much fun!

(a) Reasons relating to time pressures

Or, Who knew that being a doctor was hard work? My days are long. They start early, finish late, and seem to multiply until I find myself pleasantly surprised that although I might work Sundays I can get home by 1pm. It's not always that bad, but it's unpredictable. While I used to plan my meals a week in advance based on how I can eat fresh and minimise waste, now I'm lucky to make it to the markets once in 3 weeks. When I get home I'm past caring about the right lighting for that perfect shot, I just want cook my meal, and eat it.

I still cook, of course. Three weeks ago I made an intimate dinner for a couple of friends who are moving overseas: Spice-rubbed rack of goat, pilau rice, mint & coriander dipping sauce, and aloo gobi. It rocked. I served it hot to my smiling friends, and proceeded to stuff my face in their company while we talked and drank wine. I had three hours that night and chose to spend them enjoying my food rather than colour-balancing it or trying to write the perfect blurb.

This doesn't mean that food bloggers don't enjoy their food. What it means is that this particular food blogger loves his food but when pressed, refuses to sacrifice that for pretty pictures and rambly text.

(b) Reasons relating to creativity

Since I'm decrying rambly text I'll keep this part brief: I'm in a rut. Time pressures have limited my access to fresh ingredients and reigned in my inclination to experiment, so I find myself cooking the same type of food day in, day out. When I can knock out a quick carbonara or chana masala with kitchen staples, why risk making something new that could flop and spoil the dinner I'm so desperate for? It's a weak excuse, but when I've spent all afternoon looking forward to a good meal I tend to play it safe.

Conclusions

Let's get some things straight. I want to keep posting. I like showing off my recipes, I like having them all in one place — I even check the recipes myself if I haven't made something in a while — and maintaining the site encourages me to be more involved and active in visiting other blogs, which is a good thing.

With all of the above in mind, I am making two resolutions. Resolution the first: I will continue to post, even if that means the pictures might not be as pretty, or the blurbs as coherent. Resolution two: I will subscribe to a quality cooking magazine/buy some quality books (recommendations very welcome!) and cook 2 new recipes a week. It's back to school — unfamiliar ingredients and combinations, fastidiously following recipes.

I believe in you, Tim!

How to make a chicken pie that doesn't suck

Chicken pie

After the rousing success that was my first attempt at pie, it's taken me a surprisingly long time to make another. One of the problems is that pies exemplify the concept of economies of scale: making pasty and filling for one small pie is time consuming, but to make a little extra for a second one is a minor hassle at worst. When you're cooking for one this little fact is of absolutely no extra help — pies can be frozen, but the result just doesn't compare to freshly-baked.

Back to the pie at hand. Chicken pie. I would never choose a chicken pie. For one, my experiences with chicken pies so far have been of insipid white sauce coating poor-quality chicken and bland vegetables. What's more — and no poor pasty chicken pie is to blame for this — I'm just not a big chicken fan. A perfectly-roasted bird or a tasty bowl of soup are an exception, but on the whole I don't see the big deal.

All of the above made me shocked to learn that this particular chicken pie was one of the best things I've ever cooked. It was rich but not cloyingly so, and packed with flavour that make it so far from the anaemic chicken pies I've become accustomed to. I strongly recommend you go for the full package and make it with pastry on all sides, but if you're in a hurry by all means make the filling and whip up a satisfying pot pie.

The recipe below makes enough filling for one person's pie, although the inclusion of a lot of half-ingredients is a clear sign that you should make and eat two.

Chicken pie

A peek under the hood

Chicken pie (filling)

This recipe makes the filling for one chicken pie. For instructions on how to put the pie together including a recipe for the shortcrust pastry pie shell, click here.

Ingredients:

  • 1 small chicken breast, cut into 3 pieces against the grain
  • 1 rasher of bacon, sliced into 4 x 1 cm pieces
  • 1/2 a carrot, diced into 1 cm cubes
  • 3/4 cup of chopped mushrooms
  • 1/2 a shallot, finely diced
  • 1/2 a clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 tsp dried thyme
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1.5 tsp dijon mustard
  • Splash of brandy (about 2 tbsp)
  • 1/4 cup crème fraîche
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1.5 tsp flour

1. Bring a small pot of salted water to a gentle boil, then add the diced carrot. Cook until just tender (5-10 minutes), then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Add the chicken breast pieces and poach. Remove from the water and set aside to cool. Once cooled slightly, shred the chicken with your fingers and set aside.
2. Meanwhile in a new saucepan, cook the bacon over a medium heat until it renders its fat and crisps up on the outside. Remove with a slotted spoon and reserve, leaving as much bacon fat behind as you can. Turn the heat up to high, then add the mushrooms, a hit of salt, and about 1 tbsp of butter. Set the cooked mushrooms aside with the bacon.
3. To the empty pan add the shallots, garlic, bay leaf, thyme, and 1/2 tbsp of butter. Turn the heat down to low and cook gently until the onion softens. Turn the heat up to medium, add a splash of brandy and scrape down the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
4. Return to the pan the bacon, mushrooms, carrot, shredded chicken, and sprinkle with the flour. Cook for a couple of minutes then add the mustard, crème fraîche, milk and bring to a simmer. Let this thicken until the mixture is creamy but not at all soupy. Season with salt and pepper (I err on the salty side so it doesn't get lost amongst all that pastry).

Chilli & onion jam

IMG_8998

One thing that bugs me about jam is the amount of fruit needed. TV cooks act like acquiring 1kg of fresh blueberries is as trivial as picking up a carton of milk, but have you bought fresh berries lately? Those things are pricey. Cooking your own is a great way to make it just the way you like it — I find most store-bought jams too sweet — but the stingy angel on my shoulder won't allow me to buy $20 of summer's finest fruit only to boil it to a pulp.

That's why savory jam is so good. Also known as relish or chutney (although technically a chutney isn't made to keep, says Wikipedia), savory jams are cheap to make and packed with flavour. My favourite way to use savory jams is to spread them on a sandwich to sneak in spices and aromatics that you otherwise wouldn't be able to easily serve between two slices of bread. I made the chilli and onion jam below to spread on a lamb burger (recipe to come), but it really hit the spot on Saturday, on toast underneath a generous serving of scrambled eggs.

While I've given some amounts below, the ratio of ingredients you use is totally dependent on your own tastes. Scale back the chilli for a sweeter, less spicy result, or use milder chillies in greater amounts for more of a capsicum flavour. Also up to you is the seasoning. I tinker with the ratio of sugar/salt/vinegar until the result tastes good to me, and so should you.

Chilli & onion jam

Ingredients:

  • 2 onions, diced
  • 5 medium-sized chillies, deseeded and diced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 1/4 tsp sweet smoked paprika
  • Salt, to taste
  • Brown sugar, to taste
  • Red wine vinegar, to taste

1. Add the oil and spices to a saucepan and bring to a medium heat. Stir in the diced onion and chilli with a sprinkling of salt and cook over a low-medium heat until the onion softens and starts to turn golden without browning.
2. Cover with just enough water, then reduce the heat to as low as it will go and cook slowly for about an hour. If it's looking dry, top up with a little more water so that everything cooks until soft.
4. Adjust seasoning with salt, brown sugar, and red wine vinegar. Cook for another 10 minutes over a medium heat then transfer to a jar.