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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Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Hominy, Chile & Giblet Soup

Long ago, in the mists of time, a Native American managed to combine wood ashes with corn in a process called nixtamalization, which not only removed the hull, but also improved its nutritional value, enabling people to live free from the debilitating condition of pellagra, which dogged those people who came to rely on corn as a staple after its introduction to the Old World in the 15th & 16th centuries, but didn't know how to properly deal with it.

Hominy, with its distintive flavour quite unlike that of fresh corn, is a cornerstone food that defines the national cuisine of Mexico, eaten as a whole grain, ground into grits or refined into masa harina and then made into the ubiquitous corn tortilla, perhaps the original fast food of a thousand taco stands.

This dish came about as a result of some friends who invited us over for a party and one of the dishes served was a heaping plate of cooked chicken giblets with bowls of salsa verde and salsa rancheros. Those giblets were so tasty that I wanted to do more with them.

Menudo is a well known offal soup, teaming tripe with hominy and seemed a good place to start with giblets having the similar dense texture of tripe.

Hominy, Chile & Giblet Soup
(serves 8)

2 onions, sliced
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons lard
500g chicken giblets, diced
2l chicken stock, homemade preferably
800g tin, white hominy*, drained
1 teaspoon dried epazote or oregano
pinch cayenne pepper
salt & fresh ground pepper
12-14 mild green chillies, sliced - I used tinned
squeeze of lime juice
optional - diced avocado & coriander leaves to garnish

Melt the lard in a large pot, add the onions and garlic and sweat until soft. Add the chicken giblets and cook until just coloured, then add the stock, white hominy, epazote or oregano, cayenne pepper and season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Bring to a simmer and gently cook until the giblets are tender, about 45 minutes, then add the sliced chillies and simmer for 10 more minutes.

Ladle the soup into bowls and add a small squeeze of lime juice to each one and garnish with the avocado and coriander if desired.

*Mexican ingredients in Melbourne can be had at either USA Foods or Casa Iberica.
  posted at 8:46 pm

Saturday, June 26, 2010
Medlar Jelly

Medlar, sounds like someone the Knights Templar might have wanted to conquer and growing wild as it does in old Persia, they may well have come across it.

Perhaps it was some cranky homesick knight who visited opprobrium upon its leathery skin, calling it a dog's arse, an unfortunate metaphor which bears some skerrick of visual truth.

If you think that's ugly, things only get worse.

When picked, medlars are unusable and require transformation from rock hard to soft and gooey, in a process called bletting.

Essentially, the fruit is left to break down into a paste, which is when it becomes usable. At this point, there are undertones of dates and can be consumed as a fruit.

If you want.

For the true glory of medlars is only revealed in a jam pan.

Related to quinces, there is some similarity in flavour when turned to a jelly, but there is a turbocharged aromatic punch that occurs when the ugly duckling transforms into a beautiful swan.

Medlars aren't the sort of fruit you might buy, you need to know someone with a tree. Mine came from the boys, Graeme & Tony, who run 68 Main, a wonderful B & B in Birregurra, with acres of garden that one never tires of. They suggest the addition of star anise to the jam pan adds complexity, cinnamon works well too.

Medlar Jelly

2kg medlars
375g sugar per 500ml strained juice
juice of 2 lemons
jam setter (for emergency)

Leave the fruit to blett for a few weeks (completely soften) and place in a preserving pan with enough water to cover. Bring to the boil and simmer for 90 minutes to 3 hours, depending on the degree of bletting. Strain through muslin or jelly bag. Do not push on the fruit or you may end up with cloudy jelly.

Measure the liquid and add 375g sugar per 500ml of liquid along with the lemon juice. Bring to the boil, then simmer for about 10 minutes until setting point is reached. To test for set, place a couple of plates in your freezer, put a spoon of jelly, cool in the freezer then run your finger through it. If it parts like the Red Sea and crinkles at the edges, it's ready. If not, keep cooking for another 5 minutes. If there is still no set, add some jam setter according to the instructions and test again.

Pour hot into sterilized jars and seal.
  posted at 8:48 pm

Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Boulangere Potatoes

Really, the things potatoes have to suffer. We just love adding fat to them, don't we?

Butter, cream, oil, a Noah's ark worth of animal fats. Did I mention butter?

You know, the thing is, potatoes adore fat and the payoff is wonderful flavour, never mind the expanding waistline. Does a person exist who can resist the luscious creaminess of dauphinoise potatoes or the crispy crunch of a roast spud cooked in goose fat?

But there is another way with them that is reasonably low in fat and has tons of flavour, boulangere potatoes, simply, potatoes cooked in stock.

Boulangere, a French word, refers to dishes cooked in the leftover heat of the baker's oven after the bread was done and is a relic of a long bygone age when fuel was an especially expensive commodity.

The classic way is to layer potatoes and onions in a gratin dish and cook them with some chicken stock, but there is room for variation, this is one treatment that has been well received.

Boulangere Potatoes
(serves 6)

10g dried porcini
500ml chicken or vegetable stock
6 to 8 potatoes, depending on size
provolone cheese
fresh thyme leaves, removed from stalk
salt and fresh ground pepper

Soak the dried porcini in hot chicken or vegetable stock for 30 minutes. Strain and save the porcini for another dish.

Peel the potatoes and slice thinly on a mandolin or with a knife. Place a layer of potatoes in a gratin dish, sprinkle with some finely grated provolone and a few thyme leaves, season with salt and fresh ground pepper then repeat the layers until all the potato is used up. Pour over the chicken or vegetable stock flavoured with porcini until just under the top layer.

Bake in a 200c oven for about one hour, or until the potato is cooked and well browned. Leave to rest for 5 minutes, then serve.
  posted at 9:34 pm

Monday, June 07, 2010
Nettle Spanakopita

photo courtesy Jay Town

My first introduction to nettles was about 30 years ago in the small mining town of Woods Point, in the high country of Victoria.

Frank Bussat ran a small restaurant called Diggers Delight in his rambling old house. Local treats often appeared on his menu, wild venison, trout from the pristine waters of the upper Goulburn river, even horse meat made its way onto the carte.

Frank was rather sly with some of his ingredients which would often appear without any description and would disingenuously ask what the diner thought - after the fact.

This was how I was first introduced to stinging nettles, in the form of a rather delicious soup.

Folklore holds that nettles are extremely good for you and it is thought that they have diuretic and anti-inflammatory properties. But it is the stinging spines that cover the leaves and stems for which nettles are renowned. One light touch is enough to get you stung.

Fortunately though, once cooked, the spines are completely deactivated and the only place you might get stung eating them is in Dorset, England where they hold a festival each year, the object of which is to eat as many raw nettles as possible. Ouch!

Nettles grow wild at this time of year right across Victoria, favouring damp shady places. You've probably got some growing in your garden right now.

Having made many nettle soups and risottos, last year, my attention was turned to making that wonderful Greek staple, spanakopita, substituting nettles for the more usual spinach. When the major newspaper, the Herald Sun, got wind of it, they turned my prickly pie into a feature on their food pages.

For those who didn't get to see the recipe, here it is below.

Nettle Spanakopita
(serves 6)

2 or 3 bunches of nettles*
4 spring onions
150g unsalted butter
4 tablespoons chopped dill
4 eggs
250g fetta cheese
250g ricotta cheese
juice of 1/2 a lemon
salt and fresh ground pepper
375g filo pastry - about 20 sheets

Using rubber gloves, pick the nettle leaves from the stalks, rinse well in clean water to remove any dirt, then drain in a colander.

Finely chop the spring onions, both white and green parts, and gently sweat in a pot with 25g butter. When softened, add the drained nettle leaves and the dill then stir until just wilted and greatly reduced in volume. Tip into a colander to drain and cool. At this point, nettles can no longer sting you.

Whisk the 4 eggs in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, break up the fetta and ricotta cheeses into small pieces the size of gravel, add the beaten eggs, the cooled nettle mixture and the lemon juice, Season carefully with salt, generously with fresh ground pepper.

Working quickly to prevent the filo pastry from drying out, melt the remaining butter, trim the pastry to suit a large baking dish and place in 10 sheets, brushing the top each one with melted butter. Spoon in the nettle and cheese mixture and spread evenly. Top with the remaining 10 sheets of pastry, again brushing the top each one with butter.

Score the top layer of pastry into a serving size diamond pattern or squares, then bake in a 180c oven for 35 minutes or until well browned. Serve warm or cold.

*Available wild or from farmer's markets during winter.
  posted at 9:05 pm


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