Sunday, November 30, 2008


Braised Lamb Shanks on Bulgur

Even as the humidity rises and the sun gets closer, I am happy to braise meat. The benefit of braising in warm climes is that there is not much preparation time required, so one can still have cooked meat without having to sweat over a hot stove - most people I know all but abandon cooking during summer. And whilst the inside of a cooking vessel can look gloomy when one is braising dark meat, the meat itself, succulent and flavourful, can be served with any light, summery options you desire. Braising meat in summer is perfect for people who do not care to throw everything on the barbecue (cleaning the grates/grills is not a fun way to end a summer evening).

One of my favourite partners for braised meat is bulgur - cracked wheat that is a staple in Turkey and in the Arabic-speaking world (where it is called burghul). It is generally available in three textures - coarse (great for pilafs), medium (for salads, such as the summer necessity tabbouleh, and to stuff vegetables), and fine (for pastes and purees). It absorbs liquid wonderfully, thereby enhancing its naturally nutty flavors with the broth of your choice. For braised dishes, one can steep bulgur in hot water with a blend of spices and some of the braising liquid.

Braised Lamb Shanks on Bulgur

For the lamb shanks:

2 tablespoons flour
1/4 tablespoon salt
1/4 tablespoon pepper, ground (I used both Szechuan peppercorns and black pepper)
4 lamb shanks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon thyme
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 leek, sliced
2 carrots, diced
300mls/10 fl. oz white wine (just under half a standard bottle of wine)
2 cups beef broth
4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped

1) Pre-heat oven to 150 C/300 F.
2) Create seasoned flour by combining flour, salt and pepper in a small shallow vessel.
3) Dredge the shanks in the seasoned flour, shake off the excess.
4) In a dutch oven, heat oil over a medium heat and brown the lamb shanks on all sides.
5) Remove lamb shanks, then add thyme, onion, leek and carrots until softened. Stir garlic through to cook, but do not let it brown.
6) Raise heat, add wine and broth. Allow the liquid bubble furiously for a couple of minutes, then return lamb shanks to the dutch oven.
7) Place a layer of baking paper snuggly over the lamb shank, cover with a lid, then put in oven until lamb is meltingly tender, approximately 2-2 1/2 hours.

For the bulgur:

1/2 cup bulgur, medium grind
2 teaspoons ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground Szechuan peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 cup beef broth
1 cup boiling water

1) In a bowl, combine bulgur, ground spices and a couple of pinches of salt.
2) Add beef broth and water. Stir quickly, then cover with cling-film.
3) Do not remove cling-film until liquid has been absorbed by the bulghur wheat, approximately 20 minutes.

I mixed some of the vegetables from the braise with the bulgur in order to form a nice, nutty bed for the lamb shanks. Be sure to spoon some of the braising liquid over the shanks and bulgur. A touch of zingy freshness can be added with gremolata (minced garlic, lemon zest and parsley).

Even though it takes a while for the lamb shanks to become so tender that the meat practically falls of the bone, this is an exercise in effortless cooking.

Here's to summer!

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Sunday, November 09, 2008


That Cookbook Thing II - Tournedos Sautés Chasseur

I don't know about you, but I cannot keep all the various cuts of meat straight. It has been most confusing keeping track of what one calls a particular cut in New Zealand and what one calls the same thing in the US. It is even more confusing when translating the same cut from another language - I need to check a few references (first, the one in the language/country from which I have found the recipe source) before finding a synonymous cut in New Zealand. It really does my head in. Perhaps this is because I'm easy when it comes to meat - no pun intended. If I see oxtail, I think of braising; if I see sirloin, I think of frying (in all its sanguineous glory, please). I have neither an allegiance to a selection of meat nor to a method of cooking. Today's choice selection, tournedos, ensured that I checked a few references before embarking on a the recipe selected for That Cookbook Thing II.

And so the research question: What is tournedos? Because today's post reflects a selection of meat recipes from Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck's first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it is best to see how Child et al. describe it. Better than verbal description alone, the ladies provide a cross-section diagram of a whole filet of beef. Tournedos is located in the T-bone steak section, which is towards the lower back, as opposed to the shoulder/rump. The T-bone is divided into two sections: tournedos (next to the filet steak of the porterhouse cut) and filet mignon (at the extremity of the rib end of the steak). This is clear enough, but another source, Martha Stewart, says that filet mignon and tournedos are the same thing in America. This conflicts with Julia Child's lesson, which is directed to an American audience. New Zealand Beef tells you that one side of the T-bone flesh is the tenderloin, agreeing with Child et al., one part of this is the tournedos. My head hurts already, but I think we're there...

The commonality of all these descriptions is the rib end of the beef steak (but not its extremity, which is the filet mignon), no matter whom you listen to. Armed with this basic understanding of steak, I trotted off to my butcher par excellence, the wonderful guys at Seaview Meats, and ordered: "Tournedos, or whatever one is calling it today. I would like six healthy portions of it, and all I know is that it is not the filet mignon but the the other bit of the T-bone's tenderloin." Exhibit A, this post's opening photograph, is what I got.

As you can see, it is not as marbeled as the filet steak (cut from the mid-section - aka Porterhouse), but it is indeed tender. The lack of marbling is an excuse to fry the steak with strips of pork fat.

The following recipe serves 6.

Tournedos Sautés Chasseur
(from Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck's first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking)

6 rounds of bread, thinly sliced, crust removed (I used one of spelt and flax seed)
4 tablespoons clarified butter
250g/ 1/2lb fresh mushrooms, whole or quartered if big
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
2 tablespoons oil, divided use
2 tablespoons minced shallots
6 tournedos, each bundled in a strip of gorgeous fat
1/2 cup beef stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup brandy (or Madeira), mixed with 1 tablespoon cornstarch (or arrowroot)
1 1/2 tablespoons parsley, minced

1) Sauté the rounds of bread in the clarified butter, lightly browned on each side. Re-heat at 180 C/350 F immediately before serving.
2) Sauté mushrooms in 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon oil.
3) Stir in shallots and cook over medium-low heat for two minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside.
4) Heat up 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil in sauté pan over medium-high heat. When butter foams, sauté the tournedos to your preference, then immediately remove from heat. Season the tournedos and plate each one on a separate piece of browned bread. Keep warm while the following sauce is prepared.
5) Remove fat from the sauté pan in which your prepared the steaks, add stock and tomato paste. Boil fiercely, scraping up the browned bits (the fond) and cooking juices.
6) When the liquid is reduced to but 2-3 tablespoons, add brandy and starch mixture. Boil until alcohol has evaporated and sauce has thickened.
7) Add sautéed mushrooms, simmer to blend the flavours and taste for seasoning.
8) Spread mushrooms over the steaks.
9) Sprinkle parsley over the dish.

Ms. Child recommends that the dish is served with whole-roasted tomatoes, artichoke hearts prepared in butter, or potato balls sautéed in butter. I roasted tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme. I also served the dish with sautéed bok choy, which is not French at all, but I like to serve red meat with greens. You, of course, will do as you please.

Even though the dish serves 6, I had two tournedos. I was feeling very greedy but regretted it soon after. One really is enough if one wants dessert afterwards (besides, one supposedly shouldn't consume more meat than the size of one's palm). In terms of repeatability, the tournedos, truthfully, are very simply prepared. I will marinate them next time. The mushrooms work well in the sauce, but it is too tomato heavy, really. Less tomato paste and perhaps some herbs will liven it up next time. As seems to be the case with all the recipes attempted for That Cookbook Thing II, Mastering the Art of French Cooking provides the willing cook with wonderful foundational material from which one can spring forth with personal additions and twists.

Please visit the posts of my friends in the blogging community who have also tried this dish as part of That Cookbook Thing II: Mike at Mel's Diner, Sara at I Like to Cook, Ruth at Once Upon A Feast, and Deborah at What's In My Kitchen?.

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Sunday, November 02, 2008


Tangerine Curd Tart

Today's entry does not have the beginning I had mentally drafted. You see, I took photos of flowering kowhai trees (sophora microphylla) last week as evidence of spring in New Zealand, for yellow is one of the most striking colours of our spring - it sparkles against new green growth and dew drops, however cold the days might still be right up to the middle of the season. This morning I looked out the kitchen window while preparing the deified first coffee of the day, expecting to see the gorgeous ochre and sunshine yellow bells of the kowhai. Instead, I was confronted by an alternate reality: no flowers at all on the kowhai tree. Suddenly I had a flashback of something overheard on the news last night (I don't generally watch the news on telelvision, as a rule, preferring instead to make time to read worthwhile publications that analyse world events and politics): yesterday was the first day of summer. What? Fear not, those idiots got it wrong (giving credence to my belief in using other sources for the news). A quick search on MetService, however, confirms that summer is indeed from December to February. Tell that to the kowhai, though, which I thought flowered throughout spring. Perhaps this is a tough year for the speciman in my backyard. And tell that to the locally-grown tangerines that I have.

It seems as if the flora are all a little confused at the moment. Perhaps this is evidence of global warming on a micro level? Concerning tangerines, perhaps winter fruit and vegetables are genetically predisposed to survival, whereas springtime specimens are more delicate? No matter the science, the point is that I have tangerines at my fingertips, presumably the last of the available local citrus fruit, the colour of which supplies warmth and mental bolstering to what continues to be an unpredictable and cool time of the year.

Tangerines (mandarins that have red-orange peels) are so named because they were first shipped from Tangier, Morocco, to Europe. Of course, this is a purely imperialist distinction. The fact is that tangerines are widely consumed all over Northern Africa, the Middle East and pockets of Asia. Tangerines are generally smaller than oranges and less tart. There is a beautiful ethereal quality to their colouring - not quite orange, not quite yellow, but a blur of the two. Tangerines provide a soft tangy foil to desserts of caramel and chocolate. Of course, one can highlight the quality of tangerines in an easy tart.

Of course, you do not have to use tangerines. You might have other citrus around at the moment, and a curd can be made from all of them - one made from pink grapefruit is especially pretty.

Tangerine Curd Tart

for the Pastry:

5oz/140g flour, sifted
2 1/2oz/70g unsalted butter, cut up into small cubes
1 egg, separated
1/2 tablespoon tangerine zest
1 tablespoon tangerine juice
1 pinch salt
iced water, optional

1) In a bowl, rub together the flour and butter with the tips of your fingers until a granular consistency is reached. Mix in tangerine zest.
2) In another bowl, lightly beat the egg yolk, tangerine juice and salt.
3) Mix egg and flour mixtures together with hands (mixing in one direction) or with a wooden spoon. You want the mixture to cohere into a ball. If it does not seem to be coming together, add **one** tablespoon of iced water at a time. You may not need any, but if you do need it, be careful not to add too much because you'll end up with a wet mess and the damage will be done - unless, of course, you want to pour out the excess and add in a bit more flour, but that is a gamble, and I wouldn't recommend it.
4) Once a ball has been formed, create a flat disc, and cover in cling-film. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
5) Bring pastry out of the fridge and let rest for 5-10 minutes, to allow pastry to become pliable.
6) Preheat oven to 200 C/400 F.
7) Put pastry on a lightly-floured surface. Roll it out with a floured rolling pin, turning the pastry after each pass of the rolling pin to ensure it doesn't stick to the surface. Roll it out so it can fit into a prepared (that is to say, buttered and floured) 9 or 10" tart shell.
8) Allow to sit in tart shell in fridge for 15 minutes.
9) Cover pastry with parchment paper onto which you put baking beans (this is to weight down the pastry, so it doesn't rise and bubble during the initial baking process).
10) Bake for 15 minutes.
11) Remove parchment paper and beans. Prick base with the tines of a fork, then dab lightly beaten egg whites over the surface to give added crispness to the pastry.
12) Bake for a further 5-10 minutes until golden all over.

for the Tangerine Curd:

2 small-medium tangerines, zested and juiced
2 eggs and 3 egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
113g/4oz unsalted butter

1) In a bowl, beat together 2 tablespoons of tangerine zest, 1/2 cup tangerine zest, the eggs, yolks, and sugar.
4) Over a low heat, melt the butter in a medium-sized saucepan. (If you are increasing the quantity of citrus curd, you may want to use a wider pan in order to speed up the setting of the curd.)
5) Stir in the liquid mixture.
6) Whisk constantly over a low heat until it has come together and has thickened, almost like custard. This took me approximately 30 minutes because I am overly cautious. You may choose to do this at a medium-high heat but at your own risk. Do not forget to stop whisking as you do not want to cook the eggs.
7) Pour the curd into a bowl and cover once cooled. It can then be refrigerated or used immediately. For the purposes of this tart, refrigerate the curd for 30 minutes once cooled.

To assemble the tart, pour the cold tangerine curd into the pastry shell and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it. This open-faced tart looks like spring and tastes like winter. It offers a cool, tangy surprise to the palate and is as perfumed as the headiest of spring days. Feel free to serve the tart with whipped cream or natural yoghurt, into which is stirred a tablespoon of tangerine juice, or enjoy it as is. Given the complication of timing the seasons, it is best to just to accept local nature's produce as it becomes available. I will become concerned about flip-flopping seasons should I find myself making strawberry shortcakes in winter.

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