About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Thursday, February 24, 2011
Henry Westons Cider

The increasing interest in cider in Australia over the past couple of years has seen many new entrants into the market, both local and imported, but we have a lot of drinking in front of us to challenge England, the lions of both cider production and consumption worldwide.

Perhaps one of the reasons cider has never really taken off here before is that the big mass producers weren't as interested in the real character of cider, which is traditionally made with particular varieties of apples that give taste and structure to the drink, apples which aren't particularly good for eating as they tend to be quite tannic.

There were some smaller boutique producers, Henry of Harcourt and Kellybrook Winery come to mind, who make first rate ciders, but it wasn't until overseas producers saw an opportunity to introduce well made cider from proper cider apples that anyone here took notice.

One of the recent arrivals from England is certainly worth a look, not just for its higher alcohol level (8.2%), but its distinct apple character that would definitely appeal to pinot noir drinkers who admire that funky earthy character particular to some of the great bottles.

Henry Westons Cider is no shrinking violet and could be confronting to someone used to the more delicate commercial brands. They also make a point of declaring the vintage right on the bottle.

If you're a fan of big flavours, this cider could suit you to a tee, especially as the weather cools.
  posted at 5:02 pm

Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Maque Choux

One blog I like to follow is Nola Cuisine, which celebrates the food and drink of New Orleans, Louisiana. Danno, who writes it, is a chef who has the happy knack of producing dishes that make your mouth water, things like classic shrimp etouffee and the renowned muffuletta, through to the basic essentials of homemade andouille sausage and tasso.

One of his recipes that really spoke to me was maque choux, pronounced mock shoe, an irresistible combination of corn and tasso, anointing the holy cajun trinity of capsicum, celery and onion.

Okay, there was no tasso lounging around the pantry, a piece of pork cured with a tantalizing spice mix, but some csabai was to hand, a wonderfully rich Hungarian sausage, full of paprika and other warming spices, but if all you had was a chorizo or some bacon for that matter, well, that would also make a decent fist of it.

Corn is one of those vegetables we tend to go with either one of two ways; gorging on whole cobs, cooked till just tender, perhaps daubed with melted butter or splashed with lime juice and sprinkled with salt, or, go to the trouble of stripping the kernels, which then very often find their way into soups and chowders.

Essentially, maque choux is simply braised corn, but that's like writing off the Mona Lisa as just a picture, it's more than paint and brushstrokes. Maque choux is a dish of real character, where every ingredient adds more than its sum. If you like your corn a little spicy, this one is for you.

Maque Choux
(adapted from Nola Cuisine - serves 6)

4 ears of very fresh corn
25g unsalted butter
1 link of csabai or chorizo, finely diced
1 onion, finely diced
2 stalks celery, finely diced
1/2 green capsicum, finely diced
the leaves from 6-8 sprigs of thyme
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1-2 small hot green chillies, finely chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
salt & fresh ground pepper
2 spring onions, finely sliced

Slice the kernels from the cob about half way through, place in a bowl. Take each stripped cob and with the back edge of a heavy bladed knife, scape all the corn milk you can into the bowl. Set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pot or casserole and fry the csabai or chorizo until starting to brown. Add the onion, celery, capsicum, thyme leaves, chillies & garlic and continue to gently fry until all the vegetables are completely softened, about 10 minutes. Add the corn kernels & milk, plus the tomatoes, season to taste with the salt and fresh ground pepper then slowly simmer for about 30 minutes or until the corn is done to your liking. Enough liquid should come from the corn and tomatoes, but if it's a little dry, add a few drops of water. Just before serving, stir through the spring onions.

Note: A wonderful variation could see you adding your favourite bean along with some smoked paprika, instead of the corn and adding a little more liquid. I used some fresh borlotti beans and the result was excellent.
  posted at 3:47 pm

Saturday, February 05, 2011
Brine Cured Dill Pickles

There's something extremely satisfying about food preserving, the laying down of produce. It speaks of earlier times when such kitchen husbandry was a necessity to survive long cold winters, but also coincidentally, a means to use up a glut of a particular fruit or vegetable, especially those given to ripening all at once, which would otherwise rot and go to waste.

These days, with our reliance on the convenience of the supermarket and obligatory use of refrigerators, home preserving has taken a something of a back seat, something rarely taken on by home cooks, beyond the odd dabble at jam making.

Even so, we have never lost our taste for preserves and whole industries have developed to satisfy that yearning, canning anything from the aforementioned jams to the rather dubious Scandinavian delight of surströmming or fermented fish.

But home preserving is surprisingly easy and can usually be done with the equipment in most kitchens, though you do need jars, which can either be bought specially, or simply saved and scrupulously cleaned when their contents are used up. The only real trick to it is following exactly any instructions to the letter, shortcuts have no place here.

One of the easiest preserves to do are brine cured dill pickles, they don't even require vinegar, just some salt, water and a few flavourings. The best cucumbers to use are the ones you've grown yourself as the skin contains the Lactobacillus bacteria responsible for the fermentation, which protects the cucumbers from spoiling.

If you buy them, look out for cucumbers with a rough spiky skin, these are grown especially for pickling or brining, with a thinner skin than salad cucumbers which allows better penetration of the cure and they also retain their crispness much better. If you do buy them, make sure to bottle them the same day, fresher gives the best result.

Besides salt, the other thing you must have are dill fronds or crown dill which gives such a distinctive flavour. After that, there are a few different things you might like to add - garlic is popular as are leaves from cherry, blackcurrant or grapevine; some like some horseradish for extra piquancy.

One thing you will notice, is that after a few days, the brine will start to bubble and turn cloudy. This is a good thing as it means the fermentation is proceeding normally.

Brine Cured Dill Pickles

small pickling cucumbers

for each jar

1/2 clove peeled garlic
few stems dill
2 cherry, blackcurrant or grapevine leaves (optional)

for the brine (as needed)

1000ml water
1 rounded tablespoon cooking salt

boil until the salt is dissolved

Sterilize the jars and lids in a dishwasher or simply boil them for a few minutes. Straight away, loosely stuff the cucumbers in, leaving a 1cm gap at the top. In the gaps, place the 1/2 garlic clove, dill stems and any other flavourings you choose. Pour in the boiling brine and immediately screw the lids on tight.

You can use after 2 weeks and they will keep for up to 1 year.
  posted at 4:26 pm


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