Seeing

Pic of the day: Fiji sunset

They are my favourite parts of the day. Sunrises I see when I go for a cycle. Sunsets are when I crack open a beer and watch the world melt away. Here’s a favourite of mine from Fiji. This is a pic of my daughter. Enjoy.

Fiji: my daughter

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European, Tasting

Osso Bucco

I didn’t follow a recipe. I applied the same principles from my slow cooked lamb shanks and liberated myself from the shackles of a recipe book.  It was an enlightening experience. I also didn’t put any wine in so the kids could eat it. Even so, the results were mighty fine.

As a reminder, here are my principles for slow cooking:

  • right cut of meat: in this case veal shin, which after slow cooking falls off the bone
  • inject flavour into the sauce: I browned fatty bacon, used a decent beef stock and put in a bouquet garni freshly cut from the garden
  • don’t rush it: friends came over and I left it cooking on the stove top on a low heat for about four hours.

Ingredients

  1. 4 x veal shin (osso bucco)
  2. olive oil
  3. seasoned flour to dust the veal
  4. 1 x carrot, 1 x white onion, 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
  5. 1 x garlic clove, finely chopped
  6. two rashers of fatty bacon, chopped
  7. 400ml tin of tomatoes
  8. good teaspoon of tomato paste
  9. beef stock (amount depends on the casserole dish you use, but rule of thumb is that the stock should just cover the meat after all the ingredients have been included)
  10. bouquet garni tied with kitchen twine (I used bay, parsley and rosemary)
  11. chopped parsley

Method

  • heat oil in a casserole dish (make sure it has a tightly fitting top)
  • dust the veal with the seasoned flour
  • brown the veal
  • brown the bacon until crispy
  • add the onion, celery and carrot and cook on a lowish heat until softened.
  • add the garlic
  • if there is any flour left over, add it now, and stir to mix with the vegetables
  • add the meat and bacon back into the casserole dish
  • add the tomatoes, tomato paste, beef stock and tuck the bouquet garni down the side of the meat
  • bring up to a simmer, lower the heat. Add the lid and leave for a few hours
  • when the meat is tender and falling off the bone, remove the lid and let the sauce thicken a little
  • remove the bouquet garni
  • add chopped parsley
  • I served with pasta, but steamed vegetables and creamy mash would be lovely
  • enjoy with a nice glass of red wine.

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Seeing

Pics of the Day: Maroubra sunset

To clear my head I went for a walk down to Maroubra beach. It’s a winter day, but it was a clear, crisp and unseasonably warm. With not many people around, the atmosphere was calming and slightly ethereal. Here are a couple of pics from my little sojourn. It was also my attempt to look professional. I took my tripod, which looked a bit silly with a micro four thirds camera plonked on the top. I hope you enjoy.

Kids playing

Maroubra at sunset

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Asian, Tasting

Five spice pork belly with steamed eggplant and garlic

I first moved to Hong Kong in 1995, when I was 24. I went on a whim. As a Brit before 1997, you didn’t need a visa to work.

I was very wet behind the ears. Frankly I didn’t know where Hong Kong was, let alone what the food and cultural values would be like.

My experience of Chinese food to that point was based on local takeaways. A typical dish was sweet and sour pork. Cubes of grey overcooked pork in soggy batter with sweet (no sour or spice) glump. Lumps of tinned pineapple swam in a fluorescent orange glue-like sauce.

Living in Hong Kong opened my eyes to a whole new culture, values and culinary tastes that simply blew me away. Everything was so different. Chinese food was so varied. And so was South East Asian.

So I adore Asian cuisine. I know that sounds very general, but that’s what I love. The variety. The spiciness of Sichuan, the comfort of Beijing dumplings, the straightforwardness and sophistication of Shanghai food, the freshness of Vietnamese, the complexity of Thai and everything else in between. It’s so exotic.

So this weekend, as a nod to the past and a wink to my love of Asian cuisine, I cooked a modern, sophisticated version of sweet and sour pork. It’s a recipe from Christine Manfield’s Fire and is vastly different from Chinglish version of sweet and sour. In fact, if Christine knew I was comparing the two, I think I’d receive a lifetime ban from her restaurant. So let’s call the link tenuous at best.

Fire is an eclectic mix of recipes from around the world. I don’t cook too much out of it, because the recipes tend to be involved, with lots of mini recipes within recipes. There are a few simple dishes though, such as Firecracker Chicken,  straightforward, hot and numbing .

Today’s recipe is Five Spice Pork Belly with Steamed Garlic and Eggplant. The eggplant is finished in a spicy and slightly (but not overly) sweet sauce. It’s involved, but there are also opportunities for shortcuts.

For example, the recipe calls for grinding your own five spice, making your own chilli oil and chilli jam.  If you buy good quality versions, I don’t think it would be a problem. I did everything apart from the chilli jam, because you have to make so much of it. I didn’t see the point, so I bought some.

The recipe also calls for suckling pig. Now, in Hong Kong, suckling pig is just that, young and small. However, laws in Australia prohibit selling of pigs so young. So a suckling pig in Australia is more like a teenager. Too much for a family of four and too big for my oven (as well as a little controversial). So I plumped for pork belly. The recipe in the book is for 12, but below are the correct proportions for four people.

The end result was lovely. Enjoy.

The recipe (for four people)

Sea salt

2kg pork belly

30ml vegetable oil

20ml of kecap manis (sweet soy sauce)

2 tablespoons of freshly ground Chinese five spice

  • 5 star anise, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds & Sichuan peppers, 2 teaspoons of cloves, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon.
  • Grind spices and pass through a fine sieve to remove husks

Steamed garlic eggplant

2 x 250g eggplants, deep-fried (cut into chucks and deep fry until golden brown)

2 tablespoons of fried garlic slices (deep or shallow fry until golden brown)

20ml of light soy sauce

20ml oyster sauce

60ml tomato puree

1 tablespoon of caster sugar

1 tablespoon of chilli jam

10ml of sesame oil

1 tablespoon of chilli oil (heat vegetable oil to simmering and add chilli flakes. Turn off the heat and allow to steep)

12 roasted cherry tomatoes (cut cherry tomatoes in half and put in a roasting dish. Add oil, salt, pepper and roast on 180 C for 20-25 mins)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper

2 spring onions

chopped coriander

The method

  • Rub half the salt to the skin of the pork belly and leave for 30 minutes
  • Preheat the oven to 200 C and lightly oil a roasting dish
  • Combine the oil, sweet soy sauce, five spice and the rest of the salt. Massage in to the pork

  • Lay the pork skin side up in the roasting dish. Cook for a couple of hours until the meat is succulent (skewer the meat and the juices should run clear) and the skin crispy. Let it rest for 30 minutes and cut into 2 inch squares.
  • Lay the deep-fried eggplant on a flat plate. Sprinkle with half of the fried garlic slices
  • Steam in a bamboo steamer for 10 minutes
  • Combine the soy and oyster sauces, tomato puree, sugar, chilli jam, and sesame and chilli oil in a saucepan and heat to simmering point
  • Stir in roasted tomatoes and pour over the eggplant, mixing gently. Sprinkle with white pepper and finish with spring onion, remaining garlic slices and coriander.
  • Serve the eggplant and add the pork on top.
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Seeing

Images from Maroubra beach, Sydney

Maroubra cube

In my post, New Beginnings, you’d have seen that my family have moved to Maroubra (there are also a few extra pics in Slow cooked lamb shanks in Sangiovese). Maroubra is a beach suburb in the east of Sydney. Unlike Bondi and Coogee, it hasn’t been over-developed. It still has a slightly shabby and untouched feel, although I am not sure how long this will last. There is talk of development going on very soon.

So I’ve spent the last couple of weeks getting to know it a little better. I’m only starting out on this photography lark, so please excuse me if they are a little amateur (some of the photo blogs I visit are breathtaking and very inspirational). Comments/advice most welcome.

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Asian, Tasting

Mrs Chen: old crone, pockmarked-face, tofu legend

By all accounts, Mrs Chen wasn’t blessed with good looks. She had a face so disfigured that she was thought to have leprosy. She was often described as a lady who had been stung by a plague of wasps and had an acid tongue to go with it. She was also a widow.

Mr Chen died early. On the one hand, he couldn’t live with being vilified by a society unforgiving of Mrs Chen’s looks. On the other, his brittle heart couldn’t stand the daily lashings of his wife’s stinging words. He died a broken man.

Mrs Chen, penniless, was banished to the outskirts of Chengdu city in Sichuan, to ensure she didn’t spread disease to the wider population.

But out of adversity came opportunity. Mrs Chen was banished to a busy trading post; a well-trodden road frequented by hungry workers earning their living transporting goods. With no restaurant in sight, they often brought food for Mrs Chen to cook for them. For poor weary travellers, this was mostly tofu and meat. As time went on, Mrs Chen perfected a unique way to cook tofu and her restaurant became well-known for it. Travellers came far and wide to sample her dish. Even Mrs Chen’s constant profanity weren’t enough to keep hungry travellers away.*

The dish she created became known as ‘tofu cooked by the old pock-marked woman called Chen’, or Chen ma po tofu.

We know it today as ma po tofu.

The finished dish

Ma po tofu is probably Sichuan cuisine’s most recognisable dish. Silken tofu is cooked with chilli bean paste, minced pork and Sichuan peppers to combine for a sizzling, spicy, numbing flavour. The numbing comes from the Sichuan peppercorn, which is not related to black pepper at all. The plant is part of the citrus family.

Make no bones about it, I am not a fan of tofu. On its own it’s tasteless and bland. But it’s like a sponge and carries flavour so well. In this dish it is the hero. The pork is the support act.

And until this week I had never cooked it from scratch. I have used the recipe from Neil Perry’s Balance and Harmony, probably my favourite cook book.

The ingredients

Note: the bottle of tsing tao is for oiling the chef’s wheels

  • 300g silken tofu, cut into 2cm cubes
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 200g minced pork belly (or minced pork will do it)
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 spring onions, sliced (I didn’t have any, so I garnished with coriander)
  • 2 tablespoons hot bean paste
  • 125ml fresh chicken stock
  • 1 teaspoon shaoxing rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt
  • A good pinch of Sichuan pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

Method

  • Grind the Sichuan pepper in a pestle and mortar until fine (ground to perfection here by my handy assistant and daughter).
  • Heat a wok until smoking.
  • Add the vegetable oil and, when hot, add the minced pork and stir-fry until browned.
  • Then add the garlic, spring onions and bean paste and stir-fry until fragrant.
  • Add the stock, shaoxing, soy sauces, sugar and salt.
  • Bring to the boil, add the tofu and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, allowing the liquid to thicken slightly. Add the Sichuan pepper and sesame oil and gently mix together.
  • Serve with jasmine rice.
*Note: I have slightly stretched the original story, but I promise no wasps were harmed in the writing of this post.

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A picture showing the evolution of man, starting with ape and finishing with man carrying fast food
What's broken

Should we be doing more to tackle obesity?

I read this week an article in the Sydney Morning Herald about a study conducted by the London School of Medicine on global obesity.

The researchers predict that if all people had increased their weight to the same average body mass index (BMI) as Americans (85 kg), it’s equivalent to adding one billion people to the world’s population. In short, it’s not just an increasing population we need to worry about for food security, it’s our widening girth.

So, now the agenda has broadened from chronic disease to ecological sustainability, are we doing enough to tackle obesity? Or are we quite happy for our kids to eat pizza and it be classified as one serving of a vegetable?

It’s a tricky line to tread, because civil libertarians would argue that as long as we can pay, we can do what we like in society, and that tackling obesity is moving towards a nanny state. The argument is the same as the tobacco industry continue to spruik – as long as you’re an adult, you should be free to choose what you want to do.

But when the burden on society is so great on our population and resources today and tomorrow, we can’t simply turn a blind eye and continue to pander to food lobbyists. Can we?

What do you think?

Should people be free to make their own choices, whatever the consequences on society? Or should governments step in and tackle the issue head on?

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