Winter Warmers Part 1 – Boeuf en Croute

Moon set at sunrise over kunanyi/Mt Wellington 30th June 2018

Now we’re past mid winter’s day the weather has taken a much chillier turn (very common for this time of year) and unfortunately it’s wet as well. Normally, most Australians south of the tropics would welcome rain but tanks are full, garden beds are waterlogged (very bad for the garlic crop!) and the chicken’s yard is rapidly turning into a quagmire.

The biggest issue is that it’s kept me housebound. As a rule, winter in Hobart is much drier and colder but we are blessed with crisp, clear blue days, ideal for outdoor activities. Winter is normally the time of year when I want to do things with fruit trees, sharpen spades and secateurs, clean out the greenhouse, prepare beds for spring planting, and generally charge around the yard, doing things to keep warm.

So, although it’s been milder than usual, it’s just been too wet to do a great deal out of doors on the days when I’m home to do so. As a result, I’ve been cooking more and watching a lot of movies!

Last weekend, I started half heartedly taking stock and cleaning out the freezers (yes, I was that desperate to be doing something). There were lots of treasures for winter meals – home made pork and chicken stock, roasted and peeled chestnuts, slow cooked beans in meal size portions, leftover servings of curry and soup and bones from the christmas ham that need using very soon. To my horror, I discovered the last beautifully packaged piece of truffle that was lurking in the back corner of a freezer. I buy a Tasmanian truffle every winter and try and make the most of it fresh and then spend the rest of the year dreaming about truffles, so I was horrified to think I’d neglected this exquisite morsel, hoping it hadn’t denatured or suffered freezer burn. Thank goodness I wrapped it so well – it was fine!

I had a piece of beef fillet that was looking for a good recipe too, and a need to do something special for myself as well as my long suffering partner (aka He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Listened-To). So I decided to make a rather spectacular but remarkably easy dinner. The preparation is everything with this but in my opinion, the easier you can make the flavour profile, the more clearly the core ingredients can shine through, in this case the truffle and the beef. I think it’s worth making just for the aroma. My house smelled amazing for days after ❤

Before we get into it, I just want to talk about expense. At first glance this looks incredibly expensive, and compared to most of the food I share here, it probably is. I did a rough costing and (without wine or power allowances) this comes to approximately AU$70 of ingredients for two generous serves. Given that a quality pub meal in Hobart can vary from AU$25-35 for steak per person and something like this in a restaurant would be more in the order of AU$45-65 per serve, I think this is really good value for something exceptional that most home cooks can easily manage. Now, let’s crack on!

Boeuf en Croute (serves 2)

Beef fillet piece (approximately 500g/1 lb)

1-2 sheets frozen puff pastry

2 rashers of good quality bacon

Truffle (my piece would’ve been just under 20g)

1 clove garlic (optional)

Fresh herbs (I used oregano and sage)

Salt and pepper (optional)

Method:

Heat a skillet to high and sear the beef on each side quickly. The idea here is to seal the meat, not to cook it through, so make sure the skillet is very hot. Remove the meat once every side (ends included) has seen the pan and set it aside to cool completely. (I left mine for about an hour).

Preheat an oven to 180 C (350 F). Lay the pastry sheet(s) out on a parchment covered board to defrost. How much pastry you need is determined by how big your piece of beef is and how much you like puff pastry. Once defrosted you can roll the pastry out a little to make it fit or be lazy (like me) and make a patch with another piece of pastry.

On a clean board remove the bacon rind, chop the garlic and herbs finely and slice the truffle. On a defrosted pastry sheet, lay out the rashers of bacon side by side and cover with the chopped herbs and shaved truffle. I don’t have a proper truffle shaver but find the slicing blade of a box grater does very well. Also, I don’t generally use salt and pepper but if you do, this would be the spot to use it.

Now for the tricky bit! Position the beef on the top side of the pastry sheet like this –

Use the parchment to help make a tight roll. Also, I find rolling towards yourself lets you see what’s happening and poke any stray pieces of truffle or herbs back into place. I used a little water and a pastry brush to tack an extra piece of pastry to one edge and finished the roll, using this as the surface the roast sits on. At this stage, I also trimmed a little excess pastry off the sides and folded the sides tightly, making sure the meat was completely sealed in the pastry. I put a few decorative slashes on top to give some indication where to slice for serving but you can decorate it any way you like.

Place on a small roasting tray and bake on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes. Everyone’s oven is different so adjust your cooking time accordingly. Mine came out medium rare though it looks more like well done in the photograph (and the pic of the pastry lies too – it was nowhere near as dark as the photo!)

Leave the meat to rest for 10 minutes and then carve carefully into four slices. Serve on a bed of wilted spinach or silverbeet (Swiss chard) and a glass or two of good red wine.

Next time, I’ll share how I used the ham bones to make home made Baked Beans – one of the cheapest and heartiest meals ever. Although it costs far less, it actually takes more time to make than Boeuf en Croute!

Also, please let me know if you try this recipe – I always love to hear from you 🙂

Saturday Dreams of Sunday – Day 4 NaBloPoMo 2017

Self care takes many forms and Sundays in spring are pretty wonderful things. The one I’m writing about turned out to be pretty exceptional.

A few weeks ago, when Daylight Saving had just started and I’d had some fairly intense bouts of hay fever, I still felt quite discombobulated by the whole affair and my sleep cycle was utterly out of sync. With the added pressure of work and study, I felt I’d been neglecting two important things that matter to me – being fully engaged in getting the yard prepared for summer crops and making interesting food with top quality local ingredients (those I’ve grown myself or can clearly identify where they’ve come from).

So, after wandering around the yard trying to focus on pulling weeds and preparing beds, I decided to make that night’s Sunday roast a memorable one. It wasn’t a particularly special occasion, no birthday or anniversary of anything but in my household I like to think every day is a day to celebrate good food.

Around the corner from my workplace is Ziggy’s, the smallgoods manufacturer, which I’ve written about before. I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of small local free range chickens a few weeks ago when I was buying sausage and liverwurst. They disappeared into the freezer for a day just like today. Also in there were chestnuts from my yard, cooked, shelled and frozen in small batches back in late autumn. And finally, there was part of a gloriously unctuous, earthy truffle I bought from Perigord Truffles in winter. The last piece was lovingly wrapped, sealed and frozen for a day like this.

Roast Chicken with Chestnut & Truffle Stuffing (Serves 2-4)

A small whole roasting chicken

200g chestnuts, cooked, shelled and chopped fine

1 small onion, chopped fine

1 clove garlic, chopped fine

2 tabs fresh herbs, chopped fine (chose from Italian parsley, thyme, sage, French tarragon, rosemary or any combination that takes your fancy)

1 tab shaved black truffle (fresh if you can get it)

2 teas butter

A grate of nutmeg

Salt & pepper as required

1 egg, beaten

Method:

Wash and clean the chicken out thoroughly, pat dry and put to one side. Put the finely chopped chestnuts into a large bowl with the onion, garlic and fresh herbs. Season with salt and pepper, grate in a little nutmeg and mix thoroughly. Add the beaten egg and mix to combine. Finely shave the truffle and reserve two pieces. Fold the rest of the truffle gently into the mixture and carefully stuff the chicken.

Take a teaspoon of butter and place a reserved truffle shaving on top. Carefully place this under the skin on one side the breast. Do the same for the other side.

Butter and truffle slices inserted under the skin

Cook in a roasting pan as per usual, serve with roast or steamed vegetables. If like me, you have a slow cooker, make a trivet of a carrot cut length ways and halved, some celery leaves, a bay leaf, an onion halved and some more of the fresh herbs used in the stuffing. Place the chicken gently on top, pour over a half cup of dry white wine. Cook for about three hours on low and finish off for about 20 minutes in a hot oven.

The finished bird, complete with truffle “eyes”

It’s a little more work, but the results are stunning, and the stock that remains at the bottom of the slow cooker makes a wonderful base for a truffle-infused sauce. I served this as an intimate dinner for two, with roast potatoes, carrots and parsnip, all covered in that amazing sauce. With steamed vegetables, this could easily stretch to feed four – we were being piggies! The chestnut stuffing is surprisingly light but intensely flavoursome and a wonderful texture with the succulent meat.

 

You’re all very welcome and please let me know if any of you make this one!

As I write on Saturday night here in Tasmania, I’m also really looking forward to a special Sunday lunch I’m attending tomorrow at MONA – but more about that tomorrow 🙂

Take care lovelies ❤

Strange Days – Day 9 NaBloPoMo 2016

Well, that was unexpected.

Before I get to my usual blog topics (gardening and cute bunny pics) I may as well talk about the elephant in the room. Like many people in Australia, I thought Hilary Clinton would make it over the line, and Donald Trump would be remembered as a “what were they thinking” candidate. Mind you, Australia has a fairly mixed record when it comes to voting.

And if you think it isn’t going to impact Australia, too late – it’s already started. The ASX200 dropped something like $34 billion dollars today according to an ABC report. It remains to be seen what happens next but it appears that the US has certainly had their Brexit moment.

Meanwhile, I had a lovely morning in the garden, but with the dawning realisation that the weeds are definitely taking over. It’s been so wet and with a little bit of warmer weather everything is booming! So I spent some time clearing the way for more veggie planting. I’m trying out some different beans this year, I want to find the best for my conditions for both fresh green beans and for drying and storing. Today I planted some Italian Romano beans that I got through a seed swap. From what I can gather, this is an heirloom dual variety but I’m unsure if it’s a bush or climber, so I planted them fairly close to a north facing wall. So far, they look very strong and healthy.

img_20161109_121204

Next will be a lot of weeding so I can plant out tomatoes. This year I’m planning San Marzano, Polish Giant and Principe Borghese bush varieties and Debarao climbing. My household don’t eat fresh tomato (I have difficulty digesting them raw) but use them cooked in curries and stews so I decided to try and grow enough to bottle for use throughout the year. It’s another great garden experiment – and I’ll keep you updated!

The cute bunny pic was pretty easy work today. After just over a week living here, I think Bernard Black Bunny has got used to the crazy lady who keeps intruding at meal times ❤

img_20161109_102628

Tonight, I decided to have something a bit decadent for dinner. Back in August I treated my household to a fresh Tasmanian truffle and made ravioli and froze it in packets for just such a night. I cooked the ravioli quickly, drained it and put it in a bowl. Returning the empty pan to the heat, I added a little basil oil, a couple of tablespoons of pesto with shredded silverbeet and sliced snow peas. Then I tossed the ravioli in to coat it in the basil mix. It was at that point I realised that everything on the plate was home grown or home made. An incredibly satisfying revelation and a simple, totally delicious meal 😀

img_20161109_184143

And finally, I looked out the kitchen window and saw this. It was too good not to photograph. Despite the state of the world, and the uncertainty many of us feel, I took a deep breath and a moment to appreciate the small things.

img_20161109_181515

Take care friends, wherever you are ❤

Celebrating – Achievement Unlocked!

Hi everyone,

I know I’ve been a bit lax posting lately but I’ve been busy with all manner of things. Despite it being winter, a time when a lot of folks think there’s nothing to do, I’ve been flat out!

I’ve planted dwarf apple trees in wicking barrels, made sauerkraut, started shooting a music video with The Superstars, preparing for a debut gig this month with my student Callum, also from OAK Tasmania – all of which I’ll write about in the coming weeks.

But last month I reached a milestone – I’m officially halfway through my online Bachelor of Communications with Griffith University and Open Universities Australia. I won’t pretend – it hasn’t been easy! And there have been times when I’ve thought (however briefly) about giving up.

So to celebrate my achievement, tenacity and sheer bloody-minded stubbornness I bought myself a little present. Below is a fresh Tasmanian black truffle that arrived Friday via courier from Perigord Truffles. There were two in the pack, which are now nestled in tissue paper in a glass jar in my refrigerator. While I’m working out what to cook with them, they require daily airing which makes the whole house smell utterly divine…….

IMG_20160808_101809

With the chickens laying again, I’m definitely having scrambled eggs with shaved truffle in the coming days and I’m planning to make ravioli with some herbs and vegetables from the garden too. Don’t worry, I’ll let you know how it goes 🙂

Meanwhile, I have to get back to researching another assignment. Take care one and all, and don’t forget to be nice to yourselves occasionally as well as others ❤