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.

The most labour-intensive scrambled egg pie ever

Stupid Thomas Keller. "Oooh look at me, I make pastry by hand, I'm a three star chef, I cook my meat in a bag". Smug bastard, thinks he's so good just beacuse he can make the quiche that ruined my Saturday.

When I started this blog I said that it would be about the journey, and anyone who's ever learned a valuable life lesson will know that the journey has both highs and lows. In the past I've been diligent documenting my successes (although recently I haven't been diligent documenting anything), but don't be misled into believing that there haven't been failures. The thing is, it's hard enough writing an entry about even the most unusual and delicious foods, which makes mustering up 300 words about a failed or forgettable meal next to impossible.

Photographing it is the other challenge. Good food's easy: try to make it look as tasty as possible. But with failures the challenge lies not in making bad food look good, but in deciding how to make it look just the right amount of bad. Do you exaggerate the bad and risk grossing out your readers, or try to dress it up at the risk of making it look a mediocre attempt at good?

But I digress. Back to the failure in question: quiche. Thomas Keller's quiche has a reputation for being the gold standard in quiche. "It's almost sexual", he writes in Bouchon, "a great quiche". If he was referring to me weeping after it's finished then he's spot on. You see as pedantic as Keller's instructions are, it's difficult to get right and when it fails, it fails epically.

The problem is not the custard. The custard is perfect and I won't hear a word against it. The problem is the crust. The pastry's high butter content makes it a pleasure to roll and a luxury to eat, but very prone to leaking. He has you roll the pastry out to just under 1/4 inch (3/16 to be precise) and I'd recommended erring on the side of too thick.

Lining the 22 cm ring mold without breaking the pastry is where I struggle — the sides are vertical and tall so there's a lot of extra pastry around the circumference that bends and folds as you nudge the base to the edges. I can't offer any advice on this step since I haven't got it right yet, but I suspect that if you develop a major break here you'll have a hard time patching it. The final tip that is actually different to the book (but that Keller has since recommended) is to add the custard to the pie shell as soon as it finishes blind baking. This will help to quickly coagulate any custard that touches the hot crust and hopefully assist in plugging microscopic leaks.

My leaks, however, were most assuredly macroscopic. What I ended up doing was scooping the almost-set custard from the spill tray underneath the quiche, then returned it to the quiche shell and mixed it up into a sort of scrambled egg pie. It sounds gross and it's lightyears away from the smooth set custard I should have had, but it's actually not too far from your typical overcooked quiche.

The flavour of the ingredients saved the day, and I've been able to enjoy this for lunch at work. If I made it again though, I'd use less onion confit as 2 cups is way more than needed in my opinion. Hah, look at me trying to fiddle with Thomas Keller's recipe. Me. The guy who made this:


The accidental calzone

Accidental calzone

Let this be a warning to all of you food bloggers out there: while you're taking photographs, your food is getting cold, getting warm, overcooking, drying out, wilting, melting, or setting. If you spend too much time fucking around, your uncooked pizza will stick to the board, tear when you transfer it to the oven, and turn into an accidental calzone. Perhaps not you, personally.

In related news, I think I've hit upon a great pizza dough — stay tuned.


Lamb's brain

Hungry yet?

One of the problems with lamb's brains is that they look like, well, brains. So unmistakably like brains. They feel like you'd expect brains to feel like too: firm inside their membrane, but squishy and very fragile. When you handle these you can't help but instinctively use the kind of care normally reserved for donor hearts or baby birds. Maybe it's some subconscious respect for brains?

I'd never tried brains before this. I didn't even know where to get them. When I imagined asking the butcher for them, I half expected everyone around me to gasp and go silent as the butcher calmly went into the back room to call the police. When I told friends I was cooking lambs brains, most of them looked at me as if I'd just offered them a plastic bag full of used syringes. It was going to be a challenge getting anyone else to try them.

In the end the brains were lunch for one. The taster was away, my friends were all mysteriously busy or in the process of becoming busy, so I defrosted two, put some Michael Jackson on, and gots to the devouring.

Thriller: Music to cook brains to

Sweet potato gnocchi

Sweet potato gnocchi, simmering

It's easy to get attached to a dish before you've even tasted it. An idea strikes you and you think about it for days. You write the idea down instead of working, to see how it looks on paper. Perhaps some mustard vinaigrette to round off the sweetness of the beetroot? Damn that's good, if I finish these summaries in the next 20 minutes I can still get to the shops to pick up some dill. You tidy up the kitchen bench — you require a clean workspace to create magic. You work meticulously, even bothering to make the horizontal cuts in the shallot for a perfect dice. The cooking smells are amazing. You plate up like you're sending it to Gordon Ramsay's pass. If you're a food blogger, you take a photo framing the food slightly off center. You can zoom in more than that, so you do.

By this stage it almost doesn't matter what the food tastes like, you've already had your fun. But you've got to eat. The food has the advantage of two days of convincing yourself it will taste like mana from heaven, but the disadvantage of high expectations. You taste it and it's great. Well done, you.

Unfortunately it doesn't always work out that way, and my sweet potato gnocchi was one such example. Damn sweet potato. Too sweet for savoury dishes, and not sweet enough for desserts. Mushy and sticky rather than creamy. Slightly fibrous. I don't get it, why does everyone like sweet potatoes? Why did I make sweet potato gnocchi? What did I think it would taste like? Well, no man is an island, and this man's favourite taster happens to love sweet potato and specially requested it. This is the same taster to who was kind enough to eat the whole bowl when I made my first (undercooked) risotto. I had to give something back. I even had myself convinced I would love it.