Friday, February 26, 2010

Hazelnut and Pecan Brown Sugar Cookies

Do you like light, chewy biscuits? Or do you belong to the hardcore school of cookie monsters who love to crunch on a more dense lump of biscuit. Well I've been known to sway but if I was really pressed for an answer (stuck in a food detention centre or something) I would probably choose the light, airy macaroon-style of cookie that you chew once and it melts away. Lock it in Eddie.

If you're like me, you should try these. They could be a sexy love child between Picnic chocolate bars and Pecan Pie. Ugly, sweet, nutty. Crispy on the outside and chewy in the centre. Also gluten free for all you allergy people out there (that's you Jock.) The egg white in the mixture causes them to puff up like meringues while the brown sugar allows the surface to crisp up to a shiny, thin shell.

Hazelnut and Pecan Brown Sugar Cookies:
Adapted from Feb 20 Good Weekend Magazine
75g hazelnuts
75g pecan nuts
150g brown sugar
20g butter
1 egg white, lightly whipped
1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (or ground if you don't have whole nutmeg)
about 2 tbs icing sugar, for dusting

Preheat over to 160 degrees C. Pulse the nuts in a food processor until there are still a few chunky bits but there is a large portion that resembles nut meal. Place the nuts in a small saucepan with butter, sugar and egg whites and heat on medium flame until the butter has melted. Refrigerate for half an hour. Roll two teaspoon sized balls of mixture in the icing sugar and place 4cm apart on a baking parchment lined tray (mine spread ALOT while baking). Bake for 15-20 minutes or until they turn golden.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Balsamic Chicken with Rocket and Cherry Tomatoes

So for the next two weeks i've become some kind of mother. The kind of mother where the kids aren't my own and I get paid! Way better than my present idea of motherhood. I get to go to the movies and bake all day while everyone is at school. Plus the wonderful real mum has the most mouth watering collection of cookbooks, literally a whole bookcase full. And the kitchen looks like something out of a French cottage in the mountains somewhere, whistling kettle and all.

Anyway so kids need to eat don't they. Kids must eat. Especially these ones since they are doing rowing and swimming, touch footy, homework, music and so many more activities it makes it me feel incredibly lazy. I'm also starting to realise how tough it must have been for my own mum to come up with something interesting for dinner every night back in my school days. Now I love Ingham Chicken Kiev as much as the next McComas girl but the sight of all those cookbooks gave me the impression this family might not enjoy it so much.

I was flipping through this afternoon and came across this dish which reminded me very much of a dinner we had in Positano, Italy, in a completely overly expensive waterfront restaurant. It actually came served on a silver platter! Thank God it tasted worthy of the silver or it would have been a serious anti-climax. The original Taste recipe calls for spinach and since there was none in the fridge I used rocket instead and really loved it. Rocket has that delicious peppery punch that spinach can be known to lack. Although if I was doing this recipe again I would halve the sugar and double the balsamic and also use a much better non-stick pan, the one I used was pretty old and caused the rocket to stick to the bottom. Does not make for a Donna Hay-esque photo. Nevertheless it was darn tasty and The Rower chowed down like he had never eaten before. Good sign?

Balsamic Chicken with Rocket and Cherry Tomatoes:
Adapted from

500g chicken breast fillets, trimmed, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
250g cherry tomatoes
100g baby spinach leaves
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
shaved Parmesan cheese to garnish

Place chicken in a large, shallow, glass or ceramic dish. Season with salt and pepper. Whisk vinegar, sugar, oil and garlic in a small bowl. Pour over chicken and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, if time permits.

Heat a non-stick frying pan to medium-high heat. Cook chicken, in batches, for 2 to 3 minutes or until browned and cooked through. Transfer to a plate. Add cherry tomatoes to pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3 minutes or until tomatoes start to soften. Return chicken to pan. Add spinach. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until spinach is just wilted. Top with basil leaves and basil leaves. I served this dish with boiled rice which went down really well.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Surfing the Cider Wave

Has anyone else noticed the obsession with cider that Sydney (and elsewhere) has developed as of late? It's insane! I don't know where beer is hiding but it's nowhere to be seen while the weather is hot. I didn't even know that alcoholic cider existed outside England until about 6 months ago. But now it's everywhere! Although i'm definately not complaining, I love the stuff! It has a much more delicious aftertaste than beer and goes down very well paired with a sausage roll.

While in Melbourne on the weekend, my friends and I strolled through the city fighting the 33 degree heat (at 11 at night!) to Section 8 Container Bar, a watering hole that is set in an old shipping container! That might conjure up mental images of a rusty steel box with no windows but its something else all together. Seriously cool. The original skeleton of the container is intact although most of the corrugated steel has been removed to reveal the starry Melbourne sky above. You sit on benches around fruit pallet tables and a red hue glows from the red lanterns strung up on the walls. One of the other serious highights of this place were the drinks. YUM. I had never tried Montheith's Crushed Apple Cider before and wow have I been missing out. Created from all-natural apples and apples alone, the taste is so refreshing it almost hurts. I'm going to be looking out for this little New Zealand brewhouse more often.

A Very Melbourne Weekend

The day finally came to take Alice down to Melbourne to move her into Mannix college at Monash Uni. As soon as we walked in the door a group of seniors snatched her away from us yelling 'FRESHER!!!!' at the top of their voices, blowing whistles and horns and hastily pulling an army print t-shirt over her head and tying a balloon around her wrist whispering "if you lose this balloon you are in serious trouble". We spent the day pinning up photos around her room and finally she ran off to join her similarly army-clad fresher friends out in the courtyard. Tear.

Now i'm not one to turn down a free trip to Melbourne, even if it means leaving my little sister behind. There is so much I love about the city; the CBD, riddled with bars with names like Madame Brussels, Honkey Tonks and Ding Dong. You can always tell if a place is cool if it has a bar called Ding Dong. It's European-style cafe culture, and of course the shopping. Little Collins St here I come! I have also heard rumours about a certain hole in the wall that supplies it's many punters with cocktails and cupcakes, the cocktails served in teapots! Although I might save that one for the next trip. Since the Melbournite boyfriend has moved to Sydney I don't get down there as often as I would like. But when I do, I try to make the most of it. My gorgeous friend Emma of Colour Me This always has the down-low on awesome places to eat and drink, and so she took me out.

Lentil As Anything is an all-vegetarian restaurant in three locations around Melbourne. There is something decidedly different about this place that pumps world music and throbs with brightly dreadlocked women carrying babies in shawls around their necks. It looks like a funkier-than-your-average restaurant apart from the fact that it's set in and around the old Abbotsford Convent (not a nun in sight). The vibe of the place is electric and there are people everywhere. Not just eating but singing, dancing, performing and spectating. There are groups of students gathered at a table in the corner drinking BYO beers, people from every and all continents, curious people like yours truly, families, grandparents and everyone left in the neighbourhood and their aunt seem to be there. Lights are strung up in the trees, big umbrellas to shelter from the heat are perched above and tables and chairs of every size and style imaginable are set out on the convent's large terrace under a huge, bright green willow tree. The space seems to have everything needed for a successful business except for one thing... cash registers. There are none!

Lentil As Anything is a non-for-profit business founded by Shanaka Fernando. Unlike nearly all hospitality business', the restaurant is run as an honesty system. Customers can order what they want, coffee and cake included, and when they are done they "pay as (they) feel". There are money boxes placed around the space and customers can pay as much as they see fit, "chaotic really..." Fernando commented in an interview with SBS, "...but it works."

The food is set out in a buffet style, with customers lining up to pile their plates with as much delicious and nutritious food as they desire. The menu is fresh, packed with flavour and there is plenty more on offer than lentils. When I visited there were about eight hot serving trays filled with roast beetroot with lentils, tempura zucchini, Indian dahl, pesto spaghetti, fried rice and a soy meat dish (soy meat? Politely declined that one) amongst other delicious concoctions. A barista works in the corner which was a major surprise to me. I definitely was not expecting such a wonderful level of service from the waitstaff. They were spectacular! It was very clear how passionate they are about the work they are doing to help their community.

Fernando muses that "it is important to offer something that is not normally available... like generosity". And it is so true. It is disappointingly rare these days to be given the oppertunity to enjoy anything without expectations of something in return. Of course Lentil As Anything must make money in order to survive, but there is no one watching over you as you place your money in the box, there are no suggested prices or resentful staff. In fact, the welcoming, positive atmosphere makes you want to pay more than you normally would, simply because it is such a fantastic idea.

Lentil as Anything__ Abbotsford Convent
1 St. Heliers Street,
Abbotsford, Victoria 3067
(03) 9419 6444196444

Lentil as Anything _ St Kilda
41 Blessington St
St Kilda VIC 3182
(03) 9534 5833

Lentil as Anything _ Footscray
233 Barkly Street,
Footscray VIC
Phone: 0424 081 652

Thursday, February 18, 2010

South American Alfajores

Ever been to South America?
Me either.
Ever want to go?
Me too! Awesome.

Heres a little something to get you excited about our potential upcoming trip to South America; delectable Dulce de Leche sprinkled with coconut and sandwiched in between two feathery light, crumbly butter biscuits. I present.... Alfajores. They are apparently eaten all through Central and South America and i'm pining to get me some real-deal ones!

My old boss, Orlanda, gave me my first try of these cookies while we were working (hiding out the back of the shop) together. Her husband is Brazilian, rides a motorcycle and bakes, pretty great combination for a husband. Anyway he made her these and she let me have a bite. They were amazing! I have never seen them again in shops or bakeries or anywhere so I decided to look up the recipe and make them myself, and i'm so glad I did.

Dulce de Leche is a Spanish form of candied milk. It takes a ridiculous amount of time to make but is very easy so you have no excuse. I don't want to hear any qualms about an intimidating name, Dulce de Leche is literally a can of sweetened condensed milk warmed in a pot of water for 3 hours. There's nothing intimidating about that now is there! We used to suck tubes of condensed milk dry while hiking at Timbertop in year nine at school and I can say with confidence that this is so much more delicious. I would have no problem eating this stuff by the spoonful straight out of the warm can. Make sure you save some for the biscuits.

It's my little sister Alice's going away party tonight. She's leaving us and going to live in Melbourne to study Medicine and will probably marry some gorgeous Melbournite man and never return to Sydney! On top of her being my little-sister-who-pretends-to-be-grown-up she is also my sous chef. She is an expert at folding egg whites whereas I am thoroughly hopeless at it. Her pasta sauce is perfection and her genius idea for espresso ice-cream with hazelnut praline is her best idea yet. I'm going to miss her more than the ocean is blue. And the ocean is pretty damn blue. So, Pooch, these biscuits are dedicated to you.

South American Alfajores:
(Adapted from the Australian Gourmet Traveller Magazine)
100g cold unsalted butter, chopped
150g caster sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1 cup plain flour
150g corn flour
1 teaspoon baking powder

Dulce de Leche:
1 can sweetened condensed milk

(makes approx. 65 individual biscuits)

Poke three holes in the top of the condensed milk can (otherwise witness the amazing exploding can party trick). Place the can in a saucepan and fill the pan with water so that it reaches two thirds of the way up the side of the can. Simmer the can for 3 hours, topping up the water as it steams away. Allow the can to cool before opening and spoon out the contents into a mixing bowl. The bottom of the can will be quite thick and lumpy. Whisk the mixture while it is still warm until the lumps disappear. Place a piece of cling-wrap directly on the surface of the Dulce de Leche and place in the fridge to cool.

Meanwhile, Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C (fan forced). Process butter and sugar in a food processor until pale and creamy. Add eggs and yolk and pulse to combine. Sift the flour, cornflour and baking powder together and add to the food processor. Pulse until just combined. Form the mixture into a dough, wrap in cling-wrap and refrigerate for half an hour.

Roll out chilled dough between two sheets of baking parchment to approx. 5mm thickness. Using a 3cm wide round cookie cutter, cut round of dough and place 5cm apart on parchment lined baking sheets. Bake for 12-25 minutes or until the biscuits are lightly browned around the edges. Transfer to wire cooling racks and allow to cool completely.

To assemble, sandwich two biscuits together with a spoonful of Dulce de Leche and roll the edges in coconut. Devour immediately.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Heart Shaped Strawberries Anyone?

Introducing Josh Engwerda. Horticulturist and engineering extraordinaire, the mind behind the Seduberry, perfect heart-shaped strawberries naturally coaxed into their shape using nothing more than a mould. Simple, heartwarming, romantic, the berries are unveiled to the public today; Valentines Day. I’m seriously impressed. Watch this space.

Josh I’m so excited about these strawberries of yours, I can hear the sounds of a million girlfriends squealing with delight on Valentine’s day. Can you tell me a little bit about your inspiration for the idea? I read about square watermelons in Japan, and thought that was pretty cool, a few weeks later I was planting some strawberries in my garden and had a brain snap, why not try to shape these? Naturally it had to be a heart. My girlfriend at the time was also a big fan of strawberries.

And how are the heart shapes actually formed? Each green, young berry is placed inside a polycarbonate, clear plastic mould and it grows to fill that shape, the perfect heart.

Is there any difference in the taste of the berries? No, there is no difference, the berries taste the same, however we use only the boutique, top end strawberry varieties.

What caused you to become interested in gardening initially? Growing things is really peaceful and without sounding like a hippie it is really good for the soul. I love watching something little grow up, and then being able to cook with the freshest produce possible.

There has been constant debate about genetically modified food in recent years and the general public seems to be reverting back to traditional ways of organic gardening and eating. It’s fantastic to see a product that uses a non-invasive method to alter a foodstuff. What is your position on the genetically modified food debate? Having studied a fair amount of horticulture I have mixed feelings. There are overwhelming gains that could be made with GM, we have been using natural selection for thousands of years. I suppose the risk is that the changes/advances will be too rapid to control. Overall, I sway slightly toward GM in select occasions.

What kind of groups are you marketing towards? EVERYONE! The shape of the heart is of course a global concept from which everyone, young or old, man or woman, child or adult, can draw meaning. Everyone loves seeing something that makes them smile unexpectedly. The simple strawberry shaped like a heart will hopefully put a smile on a few people’s faces!

Are you experimenting with any other fruit shapes? Triangle apples? Square tomatoes? This will be the only shape we make right now, having looked at other possibilities none quite have the same 'edge' as the heart and a strawberry. A Dutch company is utilizing our moulds to make heart cocktail tomatoes so there may be some new ideas to come!

It must be pretty hard work to place each berry in individual moulds by hand, how much will they cost once they are on the market? The moulds have been refined many times over the last 12 months and are relatively easy to apply. The time comes from actually selecting the appropriate berry to mould. It’s definitely more labour intensive but the price makes up for it. Each berry should cost around $1-$2.

And where could we buy some? We had such an unexpected and massive response that we sold out and received orders for over 50 times what we could produce. Next summer however there will be more berries available as we are now working with growers in WA, VIC, TAS and QLD who will start producing.Do you have any ideas for a Valentine’s Day recipe using the Seduberries? Cocktails. Vanilla infused vodka, crushed strawberries, a bit of lime juice, elderflower liqueur and ice shaken up, great summer drink, not too girly surprisingly. Of course the most simple and effective way to use them is just to place a Seduberry in a glass of champagne and it says all it needs to.

Any Valentine’s day plans? A Seduberry at the bottom of your champagne glass? I'll be picking berries from 7am, then reapplying the next lot, long story short I will have to wait till next year to enjoy my valentines day with someone special.

(all photos copyright to Josh Engwerda)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Raspberry Studded Coconut Bread

OK so I completely failed at conquering the yeast monster. We will have to settle for baking powder for now but that's absolutely dandy because this bread is....... incredible. I don't even think I can find the words to explain to you how delicious this loaf is. My entire house was filled with the scent of cinnamon and roasted coconut. The crust was just cracked on top like every good loaf should be and the raspberries gave me that feeling you get when you find a coin in your Christmas pudding (minus the metallic taste mind you), they are little juicy surprises hidden beneath a snow drift of shredded coconut. Heaven.

Bill Granger, one of my favorite Australian chefs, serves a variation on this coconut bread (without raspberries) in his cafe called bill's (yes that lowercase b is intentional) in Sydney's Woollahra. Whenever I go there, which isn't often, as the queue for a table is longer than the queue at the Ivy on a Saturday night, I always manage to squeeze in the coconut bread, no matter what else we have ordered. It's so wonderfully moist you will wonder why you have settled for plain old banana bread all this time. I'm never going back!
Raspberry Studded Coconut Bread:
2 eggs
300ml milk
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
2.5 cups plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup caster sugar
150g shredded coconut
75g unsalted butter (melted)
1 hand full of raspberries (frozen or fresh)

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C. (Fan forced) Lightly whisk eggs, milk and vanilla together. Sift flour, baking powder and cinnamon into a larger bowl, add sugar and coconut and stir to combine. Make a well in the centre and gradually stir in the egg mixture until just combined. Add in the raspberries and gently stir through until evenly distributed. Add melted butter and stir until the mixture is just smooth, being careful not to over-mix. Pour into a greased 21 x 10cm loaf tin and bake in the oven for 1 hour, or until bread is cooked when tested with a skewer. Leave in the tin to cool for five minutes, remove to cool further on a wire rack. Serve in thick slices, toasted and buttered.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

I've got a bit of a confession to make... I'm a bit scared of deep frying and I'm even more wobbly kneed about using yeast in baking, (oooooo bombshell). This fraidy-cat syndrome Isn't just concerned with cooking either. My school netball days were similarly quashed as a result of me being a little bit scared of the ball. A trait that certainly doesn't help one move up in the netball ranks to stardom (had much more fun gossiping in the fourths with my friend Emma anyway!)Yeast and oil and therefore bread and zucchini flowers, have been very low on my list of potential culinary conquests. As you can see I'm not one bit the fearless Nigella that I, on occasion, pretend to be.

Now I've had a think about it and have come to the shocking realization that this paranoia stems from the fact that both of these methods seem to have a life of their own. The oil is always so dangerously hot and spits at you like an angry camel. And the simple notion that yeast is ALIVE and grows like a newborn, well it could just walk off the table and smother me in my sleep couldn't it? Just like those scary movies when barbie dolls come to life and go on murderous rampages. Well guess what; today I beat the oil fear! Very proud. And my face wasn't even permanently disfigured by the boiling oil! Yay! Next stop, the yeast monster. But we'll save that for another day.

I know this is another recipe for figs and cheese but it's the season and I can't bring myself to bid them farewell just yet. Zucchini flowers can really be stuffed with anything you like so if your sick of my preoccupation with figs you could also try mozzarella and olive tapenade, or spiced ricotta, or anything your palate calls for! I like this recipe because it is salty and sweet at the same time and the cheese melts into a delicious puddle on your plate ready to be mopped up by the remainder of your zucchini stem. You will not be disappointed.

Zucchini Flowers Stuffed with Marinated Figs and Gorgonzola:
(I have not included specific measurements for this recipe as it really depends on how many you are making and the size of your flowers.)

1 egg, lightly beaten
Plain flower
Vegetable or Canola oil for deep frying
Gorgonzola cheese (make sure it is not too runny)
Zucchini Flowers with baby Zucchini still attached
Marinated Figs (These are easily sourced in specialty grocery stores and gourmet food stores such as Jones the Grocer or most Farmers Markets in Sydney. For this recipe I used figs marinated in cinnamon, Star anise and honey.)

Remove the stamen from inside the zucchini flower. I'm sure you can eat it but it doesn't look to appealing. Finely chop the figs and slice the gorgonzola into approx. 1cm square cubes. Being very careful not to tear the flower, press one cube of cheese into the bottom of the flower. On top of the cheese place a small amount of chopped fig. Lightly press another square of cheese on top of the figs and alternate the two ingredients until the flowers are stuffed to the seam of the petal, leaving room to twist the top shut. Gently twist the tips of the flowers together, sealing in the ingredients. Pour about two inches of oil into a large pan on high heat. Test the heat of the oil with a small cube of bread, if the bread starts to sizzle and brown within the first 10 seconds then the oil is ready to begin frying.

Place the egg and the flour in separate bowls next to your pan. First dip your stuffed flower into the egg to coat, and next into the flour to coat, creating a batter that will turn golden and crispy in the oil. Make sure that the tips of the flowers stay firmly twisted shut. Using tongs and keeping in mind that the oil is seriously hot, gently place the flowers into the oil. It is important not to overcrowd the pan as they will not cook evenly, try about three at a time. Turn only once after two minutes and cook for a further two minutes. Place the flowers on some paper towel on a plate and sprinkle some coarse salt over them. Serve immediately.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Gingersnap Crusted White Nectarine Tart

Grandma's birthday! We were in charge of desert. Any of my friends will tell you that I take after my mother and very much like being in charge of things, especially food-wise. I wanted to make something pretty, summery and different and I think this tart ticks all those boxes. The recipe is a jumble of a few ideas and a few different recipes, the gingersnap crust being the best idea I have ever heard! Thanks to Joy the Baker (the most gorgeous baker around town). It's a classic cheesecake crust although instead of using regular old butter biscuits, use gingersnaps! Smart! I'm hooked. The filling is the Leith's version of Creme Patissiere and you will love it if you are a custard fan. I actually knows someone who likes custard so much he uses it instead of milk on his cereal. Wierd.

The only potential problem with the tart is that you have to make sure that the biscuits are processed very finely. Remove any larger chunks of gingersnap because they will cause the crust to fall apart, It really needs to act as one coherent layer or it won't stick.

Gingersnap Crusted White Nectarine Tart:
1 packet of store bought gingersnap biscuits (about 22 in a packet)
3 tablespoons of melted butter
2 tablespoons of brown sugar

290ml milk
3 egg yolks
55g caster sugar
20g plain flour
20g cornflour
vanilla essence
150ml double cream

4-5 ripe white nectarines
halved strawberries (optional)
raspberries (optional)
apricot jam (to glaze)

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Butter the sides and bottom of a 10 inch spring form pan. Place the biscuits in a food processor and process until you have very fine crumbs. Pulse through the sugar and add the melted butter and pulse until the crumbs are moistened. Press the biscuit mixture firmly into the bottom and sides of the pan making sure that it is an even layer, weak spots will cause it to break! Place the crust in the oven for 10 minutes or until set, browned and fragrant. Transfer the crust to cool on a baking tray while you make the filling.
Scald the milk by bringing it to just below boiling point in a saucepan. Cream the egg yolks with the sugar and a little of the milk and when pale, mix in the flours. Pour on the milk and mix well. Return the mixture to the rinsed-out pan and bring slowly to the boil, stirring continuously (it will go alarmingly lumpy but don't worry, keep stirring vigorously and it will become smooth). Simmer for two minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then add the vanilla essence. Cover with greaseproof paper to prevent a skin from forming and refrigerate. Place the Creme Patissiere in a food processor and whizz until smooth. Turn into a bowl. Whip the cream to a soft peak stage then fold into the Creme Patissiere,
Slice the nectarines into 8th's and arrange on top of the filling in a pattern on your choice and add the berries if you are using them. Heat the apricot jam in a pan over a medium heat until it becomes runny. Brush the glaze over the fruit on all sides and allow to set for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Jamie Oliver's Peach and Prosciutto Salad with Mozzarella

Jamie Oliver's recipes are for the most part, foolproof. Simple, uncomplicated food that never fails you. Sweet, salty, cheesy with a hint of mint. This salad blows boring old garden salad out of the water. A cousin of the French obsession with melon wrapped in salty prosciutto, and the great aunt once removed of the Italian Caprese. the Buffalo Mozzarella is what I was fishing out of the bowl with my fork to eat before anyone else could get at it! Its so deliciously soft and milky and light, you can tear it apart like some sort of cheese cloud. This salad is perfect teamed with fish, some grilled salmon would be YUM.

Peach and Prosciutto salad with Mozzarella:
3 ripe peaches, quartered (Jamie removed the skin from the peaches but I left them on, the colour of the skin is perfect.)
1 large ball of Buffalo Mozzarella Cheese
1 bag of mixed lettuce leaves
4 slices (approx.) thinly sliced Prosciutto ham, torn into 3 lengths
a small bunch of mint
olive oil
balsamic vinegar

Place the mixed leaves in a large salad bowl and top with quartered peaches. Tear the ball of Mozzarella into bite size pieces (tearing looks much better than slicing) and place around the peaches. Drape the Prosciutto on top of everything and sprinkle with a few mint leaves. Drizzle the olive oil and Balsamic vinegar around the bowl and lightly toss. Easy!

Neil Perry's Slow-Braised Beef with Artichokes and Pine Nuts

I find myself getting tired lately. As soon as I wake up in the morning I'm already tired. Quite perplexing since all I have been doing this week is tanning my legs, playing tennis and walking along the beach. Hardly strenuous. I figure it's because I haven't been eating much red meat. Overseas we basically became vegetarians simply because we couldn't afford a steak, and I kind of just kept going with it. But then I came across this recipe in Neil Perry's wonderful cookbook "Good Food... Takes Time". Perry's principle focuses not so much on time-intensive cooking (not every recipe in his book is stewed or braised), but rather a new approach to food altogether. A loving, passionate approach. No more express recipes every single night of the week.

Sometimes - not always- it pays to take time, letting the flavours simmer and coddle together in a pot on the stove or in the oven for a few hours rather than a few seconds in a wok. The result is a deeper, richer flavour that sinks into the marrow of your bones and lingers there for a while. I don't want to use the term soul food but I will because it is indeed the soul that is nourished by "meltingly tender" beef, as Perry describes it. Can't say I have ever made such a claim about tofu.

This recipe is incredible. I'm guilty of hardly ever slow-braising anything, and yes it is hard to find the time sometimes to cook a meal two hours in advance. However when you do, it is seriously worth it. The ginger mellows into the background while the artichokes and lemon juice tossed through at the finale refreshingly cut through the richness of the red wine sauce. Please excuse the terrible photo it's actually pretty challenging to make a stew look pretty.

Slow-Braised Beef with Artichokes and Pine Nuts:
800g beef chuck, cut into 3cm dice
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
4 garlic cloves, cut into think slices
3cm piece ginger, peeled and grated
sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cumin
500ml (2 cups) dry red wine
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
800ml beef stock
5 preserved artichoke hearts, quartered length ways
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly roasted
2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
juice of 1 lemon

Heat the oil in a large pan and brown the beef on all sides - you will need to do this in batches. Remove the beef from the pan and set aside. Add the onion, garlic, ginger and some sea salt to the pan and saute until golden. Add the cumin and cook for a further minute, then add the wine and vinegar and simmer until reduced to about 125ml (half a cup). Return the beef to the pan, add the stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for about 1 hour and 20 minutes - the beef should be meltingly tender at this stage. Use a slotted spoon to remove the beef from the pan. Increase the heat and simmer the sauce until it reduces and thickens. Gently fold the beef, artichokes, pine nuts, parsley and lemon juice through the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Serve with crusty bread or mashed potato.