Summer is just around the corner and boy can we feel it. As I write, Sydney is sweltering in 35 deg C, the kids have been coming home with warnings that if the temperature reaches 42 deg C, schools will close (wishful thinking from their part!), even our fitness schedule has been brought forward to 6am to stay out of the heat…
Needless to say that cooking has been non-existent for the past 3 days. I mean, we do eat, just don’t cook. While I am still to embrace the raw food movement, I must admit to getting pretty close: green salads have never tasted so good and fresh juices are daily staples. Not only does the meal need to be cold but the time spent in the kitchen minimal ( no slaving over a hot stove or washing an army of dishes!)
For example, here is yesterday’s lunch : green juice with kale, oranges, lemons, carrots and cucumber…yes, I have succumbed to the kale craze, hoping that all this talk of super anti-oxidant/anti-inflammatory/anti-bacterial powers will prove true ( in the meantime, I drink it because it tastes great!). And a salad of crab meat (technically it is cooked, but not by me!), avocado and cherry tomatoes… Add a few herbs and a splash of lemon juice, serve on a rice cake (for sustenance) or on lettuce leave ( for these of you on a carb-free diet) and you have a refreshing and delicious lunch. Preparation time: 10 minutes (mostly peeling the fruits for the juice) which is the longest I want to spend in the kitchen on a hot day!
High C Green Juice
Kale because it is the latest superfood (so I read), oranges and lemons for vitamin C hit, carrots for vitamin A helping to see in the dark and cucumber for extra juice so I don’t have to add water. Serve with ice cubes for a super cool anytime of the day drink.
4 kale leaves, stems removed
2 oranges, peeled
1 lemon, peeled
2 carrots, peeled
1 small cucumber, peeled
Serves 1 as a light lunch
70g crab claw meat
2 cherry tomatoes, quartered
½ avocado, cubed
1 tsp green shallots
A handful of coriander
2 tbsp garlic flavoured olive oil
A squeeze of lemon juice
2 rice cakes (or lettuce cups) to serve
- Mix all ingredients in a bowl until combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning.
- Serve over the rice cakes or in lettuce cups. Best eaten with fingers!
One of the advantages of being back on land (nearly 1 year now!) is the availability of fresh produce. While I did enjoy the challenge of adapting to local supplies and treated every trip to the market as an adventure, there is a certain sense of comfort coming with weekly visits to our familiar grocery store. My favourite fruit and vegetable store is located in the market place on the lower level of Miranda shopping mall. Terry reckons that what attracts me there is the proximity of the fashion stores…well maybe, but I love how the fresh produce are neatly displayed outside in big crates, with specials advertised to lure you inside. I get sucked in all the time: packs of mandarins for $1.99, 3 trays of strawberries for $5, sweet potatoes for $0.99/kg, cute green beans for $5.00/kg… Read More
Anchovies. You either love them or hate them.
My kids can’t stand them, primarily because they associate the fish with the dry, super salty, sometimes still bony chunks spread on pizzas. Also, I once bought a tub of salt-packed greek anchovies and Anne nearly choked at the sight of the crusty stiff creatures, with fins and bones still intact and so big they could have passed for sardines. Not even the promise of filleting and soaking them in milk could convince her to give them a try.
Do you ever get tired of eating healthy? I do.
It doesn’t happen often, but after weeks of eating low carb /low cal/sugar free meals, there comes a point where fatigue sets in and the prospect of a gooey rich treat becomes an obsession. When this happens my favourite go-to pick-me-up is chocolate. In can take many shapes: plain square of dark chocolate, dainty truffle, silky smooth tart or superbly decadent brownie.
I have experimented with many brownie recipes over the years, and the best one I found is an oldie but a goodie from the Australian Women’s Weekly which I have adapted to suit our family’s likes and needs, mainly replacing the nuts with semi-sweet chocolate chips ( it still provides the crunch factor while boosting the chocolate flavour!) I have also reduced the amount of sugar, to compensate for the extra sweetness in the chocolate chips. While it sounds like these brownies are quite sweet, they are not overly so and a perfect partner with a good cup of coffee (or a glass of milk, say my kids!) Needless to say that one serve is enough, well, for most people anyway…
Makes about 16 serves
250g dark chocolate, finely chopped
80g unsalted butter, extra
2 tsp vanilla essence
¾ cup brown sugar, firmly packed
½ cup plain flour
½ cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup sour cream
125g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
60g thickened cream
- Grease a 19cm square cake pan, line with parchment paper.
- Melt the butter in a pan over low heat, add chocolate, stir until chocolate is melted. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
- In a food processor, beat the extra butter, vanilla essence and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl. Stir in the sifted flour, then the chocolate mixture, chocolate chips and sour cream.
- Spread the mixture into the prepared pan and bake in the oven at 180C (375F) for about 45 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan.
- In the meantime, make the icing: bring the thickened cream to the boil over medium heat. Pour over the chopped chocolate in a small bowl, stir with a wooden spoon until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is well combined and smooth. Cool to room temperature and beat until thick and spreadable.
- Lift the cake from the pan, remove the paper. Spread chocolate icing and allow to set before cutting.
One of my favourite meats is veal. I love the mild flavour, the tender texture and it is so versatile you can cook it a dozen ways and never tire of it! While growing up in France, veal was as common on the canteen menu as beef, chicken or fish. It was rarer at home however, since it is quite expensive. Still, I remember delicious blanquettes de veau, escalopes, or grilled cotes de veau savoured during my childhood.
This culinary landscape changed, when I moved to Australia, nearly 30 years ago: here was the land of beef, lamb and seafood…plenty of it going cheap (compared to French prices!) Asking for veal used to earn me bewildered looks from the butchers, one of them even stating it was a waste of a good steak! It went on for a long time, and truth be told, it didn’t bother me so much: being lucky enough to travel back home once in a while, I would indulge in a “veal fix” then.
Actually, I found thru our cruising, that veal must be a European thing: France, Italy, Spain, Germany…they all know how to cook it and eat it. Move across to North and South America, and this white meat is not as prominent, except as a grilling meat. Closer to Australia, thank god for the French islands ( Polynesia and New Caledonia) and Vanuatu, where the former imports tons from the metropole ( French mainland) while the latter produces its own stock and in my opinion the best veal in the world! I remember seeing freezers full of whole legs of veal at Carrefour in Papeete ( for roasting on a spit ), shiny slices of calf liver and trays overflowing with veal T-bones at Le Bon Marche in Port Vila… Oh, how I went crazy for a few weeks wanting to make the most of this abundance, only to be told later by the Australian Quarantine officer that Vanuatu’s veal and beef are so highly regarded that they are actually allowed in Australia! Note for our next cruise…
So it was that one cold winter night, I had a craving for a blanquette de veau (veal white stew). Knowing how a foodie mecca Sydney has now become, I thought it would be easy to find veal cuts other than schnitzels. I was looking for veal shoulder, breast and liver. Beside the local supermarkets, I asked 3 butchers in my neighbourhood and was told very clearly, that I was in the wrong part of Sydney: I live in the Sutherland Shire, south of Sydney, where locals apparently like their veal crumbed as schnitzels, minced in meat balls, or braised osso-bucco. In other words, all the butchers bring in are legs of veal which they cut accordingly. When I told them what dishes I wanted to cook ( veal stew, calf liver in butter and parsley, even a roast shoulder!), the standard answer was “Oh, French dishes! No one cooks them here, you have to shop where the French are, on the north shore or eastern suburbs!” 45mn drive away and where things cost a lot more. The one exception was Paul Tasker of Burraneer Gourmet Meats, whose selection on display may have been limited but his customer service won me hands down. He happily offered to order a veal forequarter for me, cut it and package it to my own specs ( stew meat, breast, cutlets, bones for stock,…) charging one bulk price for the lot. A few days later, I collected my goodies and filled up the fridge with enough veal to cook 5 meals. Me very happy!
On to the blanquette. A very popular French dish, it is typically served family-style, meaning in one big pot at the table for everyone to help themselves, along with rice or boiled potatoes. Terry always fails to be impressed by the humble appearance of this white stew, preferring the rich colour of darker ragout (like beef burgundy or lamb curry!). But for me, the whole point of this dish is this white sauce and the delicate flavours of melting veal and vegetables. For his benefit, I add bacon for extra flavour and peas for extra colour, but that is totally optional. I love it so much I always cook enough for 2 meals (or extra guests!). Only that time, the family had seconds and didn’t quite leave me enough for a full main course the next day. That’s when I decided to create little savoury tarts, thanks to some frozen shortcrust pastry. They turned a lovely golden colour and served alongside a crisp green salad, made for a delicious weeknight dinner.
** I didn’t have a chance to take a photograph of the blanquette, it was mayhem in the kitchen that night. Made up for it by shooting the making of the tart, so you have an idea of what it looks like as a white stew AND a golden tart filling!
White Veal Stew Tart
Serves 12 as a starter or 6 as a main
Left over white veal stew (recipe follows)
3 frozen shortcrust pastry sheets
- Preheat oven to 200 deg C
- Cut out shortcrust pastry and line mini tart tins
- Warm up left over stew, adding 1 cup of frozen vegetables (peas, corn…) and 1 cup of cream
- Divide mixture into the 12 tart shells
- Place the tins in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until browned and pastry is golden.
- Serve with green salad. Enjoy!
Blanquette de Veau ( White veal stew)
Serves 6-8 as a main
1.2 kg stewing veal (breast or shoulder or a mix of both)
2 tbsp duck fat
500g speck or bacon (optional)
150ml dry white wine
2 onions, peeled and stuck with 2 cloves each
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and sliced
1 tbsp dried herbes de provence (mixed dried herbs)
Salt and pepper
3 medium sized onions, peeled and quartered
500g mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 tbsp flour + 45g butter
3 egg yolks
3 tbsp pouring cream
Juice of 1 ½ lemons
- Trim the veal meat and cut into bite sized pieces (better still, have your butcher do it for you!). Cut the speck in thick slices, seal in a hot casserole dish ( Le Creuset style ) until browned all over, strain speck and set aside. Add duck fat to the same casserole, heat until smoky. Add the veal, turning regularly to seal on all sides, about 3 minutes ( you don’t want to brown the meat, it is a white stew after all!)
- Add the white wine, water, onions with cloves, sliced carrots, celery, dried herbs, salt and pepper and quartered onions. Bring the casserole to the boil, slowly and allow to simmer gently until the veal is tender, about 1 hour.
- When the stew is nearly ready, cook the mushrooms briefly in the butter, in a shallow pan. Set aside.
- Make the roux in a separate pan: melt the butter, add flour and mix until combined. Moisten with the veal stock from the casserole, up to 1 cup. Bring this sauce to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, beat up the egg yolks, cream and lemon juice in a small bowl. When the sauce is ready, stir a ladleful of it into the yolk mixture and then tip this back into the sauce. Stir it all together and pour over the meat stew. Add the mushrooms and their juice, salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately.
- Enjoy with rice (traditional) or polenta (as I did)