Daniel

He fixed me with a cool stare as the water streamed over and through his body, taking away the last vestiges of the things that made him whole. He continued to stare silently as I dried him, dressed him and placed him on his bed, his final resting place. After tucking him in, I bid Daniel a final farewell before shutting the door.

When I opened it again, he was cooked and ready to eat. Of course, “Daniel” was the star of my Christmas lunch – a tarakihi fish baked in salt.

Every year since I started taking an interest in cooking, I’ve used Christmas as a chance to try out recipes using ingredients or techniques I wouldn’t normally use. In 2012 it was honey mustard glazed ham. In 2013 it was “Pinchy” the crayfish. And in 2014, it was “Daniel” the salt-baked fish.

The first time I saw the technique of baking something in salt was on one of last year’s episodes of My Kitchen Rules, where a team cooked beef in a salt casing. It’s an old technique that, as far as my extremely limited research has shown, probably originated in Carthage (north Africa). More commonly, I’ve seen recipes state that it’s an old Spanish or Italian technique of cooking.

I debated whether salt-baking would be worth the effort and I’ve decided it really is. It produced some of the most tender, well-seasoned fish I’ve ever eaten and it really doesn’t require that much effort. Even the amount of salt wasn’t as ridiculous as I initially thought it would be. While recipes call for rock or sea salt (more expensive but preferred because the larger granules allow the salt mixture to form more easily), I found it worked perfectly well with a combination of table salt and sea salt.

Here is the recipe I followed. Just a little tip: apparently it’s best to leave the scales on the fish, which is what I did, but some recipes make no distinction. The scales prevent the fish from being over-salted but if you’ve found this otherwise then do let me know!

Have a go and take pleasure in cracking open that beautiful golden salt casing!

Salt-baked Tarakihi fish. Photo: Tao Lin

Salt-baked Tarakihi fish. Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

This is what happens when you lack good food decoration skills

The weekend before Christmas, I helped my friends make some Santa Strawberries. They turned out very cute and all that so I thought, why not make these for my own Christmas meal?

My lack of decorative expertise really showed, especially in the weirdly shaped “eyes” hastily cut out of a gummy snake. The little Santas ended up looking more like zombies, prompting the important eternal question: do these belong at Christmas time or would they be better served at Halloween?

Zombie Santas. Photo: Tao Lin

Zombie Santas are coming to get you. Photo: Tao Lin

Season’s greetings from “Pinchy”, the Christmas crayfish

It arrived on Christmas eve in a tightly sealed styrofoam box.

My scissors sliced through the billowing plastic and industrial strength tape surrounding the container.

I tentatively lifted the lid – but only a little – and promptly dropped it back down again. I had seen nothing.

I called my mum over to help.

We both glimpsed cautiously into the box when suddenly, she let out a small yelp of surprise.

I had received a text message, which caused a loud, sudden buzz to reverberate across the counter top. We both giggled ferociously.

Our laughter gave us the courage to throw the lid off, pull back the sheet filled with melted ice and uncover the greatly anticipated star of our Christmas – Christmas lunch, that is: a brilliantly orange and very much cooked crayfish.

I can’t explain the irrational fear I felt when first attempting to open the box and it doesn’t make sense to me why I chicken out at handling a once-living creature that still looks like an animal (spit roasts are a prime case in point). Whatever the reason, I couldn’t bring myself to drive a knife through the crayfish’s head to split it open so I asked Andrew to do it for me.

Being the endearing soul he is, he promptly named our little buddy “Pinchy”, before cracking open its head.

"I shall name him Pinchy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Pinchy."  Photo: Tao Lin

“I shall name him Pinchy and he shall be mine and he shall be my Pinchy.”
Photo: Tao Lin

Once he cracked open the crayfish, Andrew removed the mustard-coloured liver and some other soft gooey stuff before I brushed over the flesh with a mix of melted butter, a chopped red chilli, crushed garlic and grated zest of a lime (recipe by Nadia Lim). It then went onto a heated pan to grill, flesh-side down, for a couple of minutes before serving.

It was a surprise for my dad, who loves shellfish, and part of my Christmas gift to him. It was a nice feeling seeing his joy from something that is so basic and his enthusiasm in encouraging us all to enjoy the dish with him.

I hope everyone’s had such warm moments this festive season and a fabulously happy holiday!

Photo: Tao Lin

Photo: Tao Lin

And so the festive season of eating too much begins…

Roast turkey, meat pie, oven-baked salmon, bread rolls, salad, chocolate cake, tiramisu. That was my lunch this weekend gone by and the start of some serious (over)eating.

My friends and I decided to do a shared lunch and Secret Santa. I was tasked with a main and dessert, both of which turned out pretty well. For the main, I made Guinness steak and mushroom pie and for dessert, tiramisu.

I’ve come to realise that pie takes a heck of a long time to make – much longer than it would take you to drive down to the local pub and order one there, and it would taste about the same too. However, I’m glad I made the effort this time because it turned out delicious. It’s based on a Jamie Oliver recipe for a boozy Guinness steak and cheese pie but I did my own thing with it by adding shiitake mushrooms.

Guinness steak and mushroom pie
Serves 6

Ingredients
1 red onion, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
About 10 dried shiitake mushrooms, soaked in water overnight and cut into thin strips. Keep the water that the mushrooms have been in to top up the stew.
600g stewing beef
A couple of sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves picked and chopped
A couple of sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
300ml Guinness
200ml beef stock
2 heaped tablespoons of flour
Puff pastry (I used store bought because I am terrible at making pastry)
One egg, beaten

How to:

  1. Preheat oven to 190ºC. Heat olive oil over low heat in saucepan and gently fry the onions for about 10 minutes. Don’t let them color too much.
  2. Turn the heat up and add carrots and garlic. Mix it together before adding mushrooms. Stir together and add beef, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper.
  3. Fry for 3-4 minutes and then add Guinness and stock. Stir in the flour and then top with the water saved from soaking the mushrooms.
  4. Bring to a simmer and then pour into an ovenproof dish. Cover with tin foil and place in oven for about 90 minutes.
  5. After 90 mins or so, remove from oven and stir. At this point I added more salt and pepper to taste because it tasted quite bland – it may pay to do the same but always check first!
  6. Place back in the oven for another hour or so the beef is tender and stew is thick.

For the pastry lid I took out a sheet of pastry, laid it over the top of the stew, folded the sides down to make a bit of a crust, sliced the top with a sharp knife, brushed it with the egg and popped it back in the oven for about half an hour.

When I was looking for a tiramisu recipe, I quickly came to the realisation that most recipes for the fluffy Italian dessert use raw egg. Considering I didn’t want to unwittingly give my friends food poisoning, I looked semi-hard for a recipe that doesn’t use raw egg. I trawled through some Google results and found one using cooked egg yolks. You can find the recipe here: http://www.askchefdennis.com/2011/04/the-best-tiramisu-you-will-ever-make/ and trust me, you will love it. I had heaps leftover after lunch and I found the tiramisu actually tastes even better once it’s been in the fridge for a day. Not sure whether that’s because I wasn’t so stuffed when I ate it a day later or if it’s actually legitimately better.

I’ve been tasked with making Christmas lunch on the actual day again this year. So far, I have a crayfish. More ideas?

Christmas lunch feast with friends. Photo: Tao Lin

Christmas lunch feast with friends. Photo: Tao Lin

 

Merry Christmas Ham

First of all, MERRY CHRISTMAS!! It’s been a great day filled with lots of cooking, food, carbonated drinks, relaxation and laughter. This year was the first time that I have ever cooked a meal for Christmas and I was so excited that I couldn’t sleep last night! On the Christmas menu was:

  • Fresh carrots and celery with hummus dip
  • Sausages
  • Mince pies
  • Vietnamese vegetarian rice spring rolls with fish sauce and lemon dip
  • Glazed baked pork rump
  • Ginger chilli chicken wings
  • Dill and lemon baked salmon
  • Roast veges

By the way, there’s only 4 of us and yes, there are heaps of left-overs but there is no doubt that all of it will be eaten before I leave for Perth this Saturday.

Of all the things up to be cooked, I was the most worried about the ham, specifically the glaze. Being the first time that I’ve attempted to make glaze for ham, I was apprehensive about it tasting right when paired with the meat. None of the recipes I found online really appealed to me that much so I amalgamated a recipe I found with the one in my cookbook. It went something like this:

Ingredients
1/2 cup honey
1/2 firmly packed brown sugar
1/4 cup water
About 1-2 teaspoons or so of mustard powder  – I don’t know if this was enough because I didn’t get any mustard taste or heat but I didn’t want to overdo it
A pinch of cinnamon
A bit of flour (Sorry for the vagueness but it literally was a pinch of this and a bit of that in terms of these latter 3 ingredients)

Method

1. Preheat oven to 180˚C/160˚C fan-forced.

2. Mix together the honey, sugar, cinnamon, water and mustard powder in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Stir until all the sugar has dissolved. Take off the heat.

3. Remove the rind with your fingers, being careful not to take off the layer of fat underneath (I need more practice with this one!). Score the fat diagonally, making sure that you don’t cut past the fat and into the meat.

Ham rump before 1

4. Place about 2 cups of water in a baking tray, set an oiled rack in the tray and sit the rump onto the rack

5. Brush the glaze over the rump (leaving some more additional glazing later) and place in the oven. I also pushed some whole cloves into the fat before placing in the oven.

DSCN0463

6. Keep glazing throughout the whole time it cooks. Cooking time for me was about 90 minutes but I may have had the temperature a bit low. The meat turned out great though; very moist and the sweetness of the glaze went very well with the saltiness of the pork.

Lunch was served around midday today and I think my stomach has only just shrunk back to something that resembles its normal size. It’s terrible, this gluttony, and even more terrible is the fact that I let this day be an excuse to pig out. But when you don’t celebrate Christmas for the religious reasons, what better things are there to celebrate on this day aside from the precious time spent with your loved ones and the fantastic food that you all get to share?

Ham rump after 1

Overrun by Gingerbread People

It was a very humid day and probably not one I would ordinarily choose to spend in a kitchen baking cookies. However, it is Christmas (almost) and I had a lot of German Lebkuchen dough, add to that an invitation from my friend to join her in baking and decorating Christmas cookies and well, that’s essentially how I ended up on a muggy day in a hot kitchen making a couple of dozen little Gingerbread men (plus other shaped cookies).

In terms of taste, I find they’re not bad for my first go at this recipe. I think that not having spent an entire afternoon making the actual dough helps a lot in terms of my desire to eat the end product. I found that yesterday when I baked the other set of cookies I didn’t want to even look at them in the end because I had spent so long creating them.

The recipe is essentially the same one as the Pfeffernüsse recipe that I posted the time before last, minus the pepper but plus slivered almonds. The white cookies in the third picture are sugar cookies and we used royal icing for decorating.

Gingerbread men 1Gingerbread men 2Gingerbread men 3Gingerbread 5

Walnusskipferl

Following on from my previous post, this is another cookie from Germany: Walnusskipferl. I suppose they’re meant to look something like croissants (the kipferl being an ancestor of the croissant and a popular Christmas treat in Austria) but mine definitely looked more like potato wedges than delicious French pastries. In saying that though, I am incredibly pleased with how these turned out; they’re amazingly melt-in-the-mouth and just the right level of sweetness.

Walnusskipferl 1

The recipe I followed made about 30 cookies.

Ingredients

100g crushed walnuts – the recipe I brought back with me used ground walnuts but I have heaps of whole walnuts at home so I put 100g of that in a plastic bag and crushed them with a potato masher and a rolling pin. I’m sure any heavy/solid implement would do.
275g all purpose flour
70g confectioners’ sugar
A pinch of salt
1 egg yolk
200g unsalted butter, cut into cubes – this is best if it’s been left out of the fridge for a bit so it’s nice and soft

Method

  1. Mix together flour, sugar, walnuts, salt, egg and butter into a dough. Note that this dough is quite sticky.
  2. Roll into logs, wrap with cling film and place in fridge for about 2 hours
  3. Preheat oven to 180°C
  4. Cut dough into slices and form into a croissant shape (or if you’re like me, any shape that vaguely resembles a croissant)
  5. Place onto an oven tray lined with baking paper and bake in oven until it turns a light yellow colour. This batch took me about 20 minutes to cook.
  6. Once the cookies are done, brush some melted unsalted butter over the top and sift over icing sugar. This must be done when the cookies are hot. If you can find it, you can also mix together vanilla sugar with the icing sugar.

If you like, the ends of this can also be dipped in melted chocolate and left to cool.

Learning

I feel these cookies turned out really well and the only thing I would change for next time would be the amount of walnut I put in; I don’t really get the walnut taste coming through so I would definitely add more in.