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 🙂

Winter Love

Sunrise 19th June 2018

For the most part, I really like winter. Here in Hobart it brings the Dark MOFO festival, which always leaves me enriched emotionally but (happily) broke from concert fees. This year I saw one of my favourite German bands Einsturzende Neubauten again, Australian treasure Tim Minchin for the first time and the magnificent multimedia artist Laurie Anderson live in concert.

The chickens aren’t laying much and I miss the long days in the garden admittedly, but I like the short, crisply sunny days and love the smell of soup or hearty stews in the slow cooker (usually served with a robust winter garden salad) and although me and mine aren’t big on sweet things, we love the occasional winter pudding. Lemon Self-Saucing Pudding is one of the first things I ever baked on my own when I was very young, baked in an old Metters wood stove and supervised by my mother and grandmother. Over the years I’ve tweaked this recipe a lot, ensuring there’s a reasonable balance between the light and golden sponge to rich and luscious sauce, even adding little touches like very finely grated ginger to shift the flavour profile.

Having home grown lemons and limes has encouraged me to bring this beauty out again and I think this is something of a triumph in terms of flavour/texture balance. I hope you enjoy it ❤

Deb’s Lemon & Lime Self-Saucing Pudding

75g butter

1 scant cup of sugar

2 cups milk

¼ cup Self Raising flour

1-2 lemons (see note below)

2-3 limes (see note below)

3 eggs

Preheat an oven to 160-180 C (320-350 F). Cream the butter and sugar very thoroughly. In a clean large bowl, separate the egg whites and mix the yolks with the creamed butter and sugar.

 

 

Grate the lemon and lime rind, juice the fruit and add this to the batter. Add a little of the milk to the mix and once it’s well combined add the flour. Mix this through, ensuring there’s no lumps and gradually add the rest of the milk.

Beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks and fold this carefully through the mixture.

Pour into a greased 6 cup soufflé dish and bake for 30 minutes or until the top is golden and the pudding has pulled away from the edge of the dish. If the top has browned but it seems like there’s too much liquid, leave the pudding in the oven (switched off) for another 10 minutes. Serve as is or with a dash of cream for extra richness.

NOTE: My family like very tart citrus flavours and less sugar, so I used 2 lemons and 3 small Tahitian limes to a scant cup of sugar in this recipe. Feel free to adjust to your taste! I also picked the fruit a few days ago, so they’d had a chance to relax a little and reach maximum juiciness.

Let me know if you try this and how it behaves for you. And as always, feel free to add or reduce sugar levels to suit your personal taste 🙂

Something in the Air

Full moon at dawn

Hello friends,

It’s been another busy week, lots of writing, reading, gardening and music! The image above was snapped on my mobile phone at daybreak Tuesday morning, when I was getting ready to head off to work. The weather’s been fairly typically cold and frosty mornings but sunny most of the day. Great weather for working outside – as long as I keep moving!!!

In my reading, I came across an interesting old method of planting peas, and it reminded me of something my dad used to do when I was an avid young food gardener. The idea is to plant the peas in a good quality mix in clean half eggshells and once the seedlings are big enough, the whole thing can be planted out. The eggshells with break down in time and offer extra calcium to the plants. My family love Snow Peas and the only variety I grow these days is Mammoth Melting, a lovely heirloom variety and I let a few pods grow on so I have a fresh supply of seed for the next year.

Although I’m a little late, we tried it out at Oak this week, planting two dozen for the Food Garden program, and was thrilled how engaged my crew were with the idea, even to sorting out a watering plan. I’m really looking forward to seeing how they fare 😀

I had a great time yesterday, weeding the incredible garlic beds in the sunshine, and picked a massive winter salad for dinner last night. But today really felt like a proper winter’s day, with steely grey clouds, cold wind and I even disturbed a bird of prey eyeing off my chickens and rabbits – twice!!! The first time was fairly early this morning, as I was feeding the animals (who are all in secure, closed areas by the way!) and again late this afternoon as I picked greens for tonight’s stir fry. It was too fast to get a decent photo on my mobile phone but I think it was a Brown Falcon, a fairly common bird throughout Tasmania. Some of you might recall a few years ago I came out one morning and found a beautiful White Goshawk perched on the chickens’ enclosure. It’s not unusual to see birds of prey here, despite being only a few minutes from central Hobart!

The chickens offered up three eggs despite their would be visitor, testimony again to day length being the trigger for egg laying rather than temperature. Despite the cold today, I get the sense of something stirring as the days slowly get longer again. We’re past the winter solstice and on the home stretch. Time to top dress the asparagus bed! 🙂

Take care everyone, wherever you are ❤

4pm Sunday 16 July 2017

 

Friendship, Food and Music

Hello friends,

It’s been quite a few weeks since I’ve posted anything. Yes, I think I’m slack too, but I’ve been fairly snowed under with work, a nasty stomach bug and (as always) constant study and assignment deadlines!

A la Game of Thrones, winter isn’t coming – it’s well and truly here! At least winter had the good grace to wait until Dark Mofo had finished before settling in properly. And the colder weather’s brought some very icy mornings and plenty of work to do around my little urban farm. I’ve been weeding beds, transplanting lots of volunteer greens that that have sprung up and covering as much as possible with spent straw from the rabbit hutches. It looks like it’s going to be a really good crop of garlic this coming summer and I can’t wait to see how the later varieties fare in my microclimate. We’ve enjoyed the first few lemons off my tiny tree and the Blood Orange, Lime and Valencia are both surviving the cold weather so far *crosses fingers*

I’m waiting on another order of fruit trees on dwarfing rootstock that I’ll be putting up into wicking tubs like the apples last winter and trying to clean up the last of the chestnuts’ spiky husks and collect all the leaves for compost. I confess I’ve been putting off stripping out the greenhouse in preparation for spring. It’s such a big job and something of a domino effect – once I start, I can’t stop!

I was thinking about tackling it this morning but a visit from some friends saved me 😀 Matt was interested in trying one of my farmed rabbits to eat and arranged to call around with Robyn (another musician friend). Being winter, I had no fresh kits but had one in the freezer from the last litter for him. Robyn and I found about 500g of good chestnuts from two large buckets of spiky husks and I gave her and Matt fresh eggs, herbs and a jar of crabapple jelly for Matt’s elderly mother. We drank coffee on the balcony in the winter sunshine, discussed music, books and life in general.

Matt and I have known one another for many years and today was a delightful catch up. (We recorded “Clementine”, a song of his last year but I’m not sure when it’s going to be released!) He’s in the process of recording again and wanted to borrow my electric 12 string guitar (affectionately known as Dean), which I was happy to do. Meanwhile, I’ve been toying with buying a flat-back mandolin for playing in live sets and was utterly blown away when he gave me this today, saying it was just lying around, not getting played….

I’ve been tinkering around with it most of the afternoon and I think it’s going to be a fabulous addition. And I’m sure every time I play it I’ll think of my dear friend – I might even have to write him a song ❤