A lazy dinner…

Lazy Dinner

Sometimes, I just don’t feel like cooking.  Like tonight.  We have had such a busy weekend with trying to get the place ready to sell, and it was rather warm today.  Apparently the mercury hit 37°C today (about 99°F).  So a nice cheese platter was definitely a winner.  We had a small wedge of Castello Blue, along with a nice Havarti and a herb and garlic Brie.    Home made quince paste also made an appearance, along with some berries, prosciutto, and some spicy sorpressa.  Not depicted were some marinated olives and artichokes, gherkins and an absolutely gorgeous smoked mushroom dip that I discovered a couple of months ago.  I will post a picture of the dip soon.  It is so delicious, that I am honour bound to share it with everybody!!   Hopefully everyone else enjoyed their dinner as much as I did.

Happy Eats :P

French Apple Cake – David Lebovitz

French Apple CakeIt’s a lovely day to bake a cake.  That’s what I thought as I rummaged through my fridge, searching for inspiration.  I had a veritable bounty of apples, and I remembered that I had read a very interesting recipe by David Lebovitz using a fair number of apples.  I looked it up, and sure enough I had all the ingredients in the pantry.  Which was great as it meant apple cake was definitely on the cards for supper.  So I made a cake.  Loved it so much that we scoffed it down before managing to take any photos of it.  Of course, this meant that I had to make another one.  So, for the second time in a week I baked a cake.  I did have an excuse.  We were taking my Grandmother out for dinner, and we needed a cake to have with tea and coffee afterwards.  When Aji (my Grandmother) was eating it she said that she liked it.  Which is high praise indeed.

David’s French Apple Cake is wonderfully simple.  There is no fussing around with creaming butter or sifting flour.  It is wonderfully moist and not too sweet, which is perfect for me.  I agree with his comments that this cake does not need cinnamon, and that the alcohol does add to the flavour of this cake.

VARIATIONS: The original recipe states that a variety of apples is best for this dish.  I only had green granny smith cooking apples, and they were wonderful.  Also, I did not peel my apple (they were well washed though).  Self raising flour saves you from needing to measure out a fiddly amount of baking powder.  Additionally, I used wholemeal flour, as that was what I grabbed by mistake, and it worked out just fine.  You could, of course, do half white and half wholemeal, or all white.  The rum is important and should not be omitted, but other alcohols would be lovely to try. For example, I used a hazelnut liqueur (as I ran out of rum) although I think an apple brandy like Calvados would be sublime.  Pear would make an interesting substitution, I plan to make one later in the week, I’ll let you know how it turns out.  Another substitution that I plan to try is whole seedless grapes.  I know that this might sound a bit odd, but I have had an olive oil based grape cake, and the batter was a very similar taste and texture, so I am fairly confident that I will work.

Begin by preheating your oven to 180 °C (355 °F).  If you have a fan forced oven, you may wish to drop the temperature a little.  I  actually cooked mine at 170 °C.  Butter and line your cake tin.  The original recipe only calls for buttering of the pan, but I found two problems with this.  Firstly, as the apple cooks, it caramelises and can stick to your cake tin.  Secondly, the batter is a slightly runny one, and can leak out of you tin. I found lining the dish eliminated both issues.  Next, using a whisk, mix your flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl just enough to combine.  Melt your butter and allow to cool, so it doesn’t cook the egg when you eventually mix it all together.  Now prep your apples.  I didn’t peel mine, it sped up and already fast process.  Cut the cheeks off the apples.  Each cheek can be easily cut into 9 pieces.  There will be some apple still attached to the core.  Slice these off and cut them into 3 pieces each.  These pictures may make this clearer.

Whisk the eggs until they are foamy.  This won’t take long.  Add the sugar and whisk it in, followed by the rum and vanilla extract.  Now whisk in half the flour, and then gently stir in half the cooled melted butter.  Stir though the rest of the flour, then the remaining butter.  Gently fold the apples into the mixture until the apples are coated with the batter.

Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven 50 minutes to 1 hour.  Mine took 55 minutes, incidentally.  And that’s it.  Serve with a dusting of sugar, ice cream or a dollop of cream.

Happy Baking :P

Yum!

Yum!

French Apple Cake

(Recipe from David Lebovit’s French Apple Cake)

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 50-60 minutes

Yield: 1 x 23cm (9″) round or 20cm (8″) square cake

  • 3/4 cup plain wholemeal flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup/115g/4 oz melted butter (salted or unsalted fine), cooled
  • 4 large apples, washed and chopped as described above
  • 2 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup/150g/5.3 oz sugar (I used raw sugar)
  • 3 tablespoons/45mL hazelnut liquor (or dark rum)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 180 °C (355 °F).  Grease and line your cake tin.  In a small bowl, briefly whisk the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.  If you have not done so, melt your butter and prep your apples.

In a large bowl crack your eggs, and whisk them well by hand until they become frothy.  This should take only a couple of minutes.  Add in the sugar, followed by the alcohol and the vanilla extract, whisking well after each addition.

Once combined, whisk in half or the flour, then stir in half of the butter.  The mixture should start to look thicker and glossy.  Stir in the remaining flour and then the butter.  Once well combined, fold the apples into the batter.  Once the apples are well coated by the batter, pour the mixture into your prepared cake tin and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until done – to check for doneness, insert a skewer or toothpick into the centre of the cake.  It should come out clean or with a few crumbs attached.  There should not be any wet batter left on the skewer.

Let stand for 5 minutes before turning out.  Dust with icing (powdered) sugar, if desired and serve as is or with cream or ice cream.  This should keep, covered, for up to 3 days in a cool room, or 5 days in the fridge.

LINKS:

David Lebovitz – Living the good life in Paris

Dorie Greenspan

About French food

Thai Scented Oven Baked Salmon Parcels

Thai Scented Oven Baked Salmon ParcelsSalmon is such a gorgeous fish.  I absolutely adore it.  Sometimes I think I could eat it everyday.  It’s such a quick, healthy and versatile meal.  Every couple of months, Scuba and I make the trip to our local fish market and pick out a nice looking salmon.  The lovely fishmonger cleans it and even cuts it up into portion sized pieces for us.  We end up with about 20 to 25 meals from 1 fish.  I freeze the portions in pairs for the two of us, and defrost it in the fridge overnight for a meal the next day.  Apparently you can freeze salmon for up to 3 months before impacting on the quality and flavour, but in this house the salmon is long gone by then!

VARIATIONS:  I know I’ve been extolling the virtues of salmon, but this would also work with trout or tuna, or a firm fleshed white fish like cod or snapper.  A delicate fleshed fish like barramundi can also be used, but the amount of curry paste should be reduced as to not overwhelm the flavour of the fish.  If fish is not your thing, this would work just as well with a chicken breast, just increase the cooking time.  I think that the flavours would also complement firm or fried tofu (If anyone tries this, please let me know!)  You could use green or yellow curry paste if you don’t have any red handy.

GLUTEN FREE SUBSTITUTIONS: Make your own curry paste unless you can find a gluten free store bought one.

Begin by laying out a double thickness of aluminium foil in a square of about 30cm x 30cm – about 12 “x 12 “.  Lightly grease foil with a minimal amount of oil to stop the fish from sticking, about 1/2 teaspoon should be adequate.  Lay your fish onto the foil.  Admire it’s glistening flesh.  Now grab your goodies that you are going to use to anoint this fabulous fish.  Some days, I win the fight with alliteration, other days it beats me.  Arrange the roughly chopped coriander leaves over the fish, followed by some sliced cherry tomato, garlic paste,  curry paste, a squeeze of lime and a dash of coconut milk.  Don’t be tempted to add extra curry paste, or it can overwhelm the fish.  At this time you could also add a splash of fish sauce, some palm sugar or some bruised lemon grass.  I had run out, so I left it out.

Now carefully wrap the aluminium foil so that the fish is fully contained and relatively leak proof.  Pop it in the oven in top of a cookie sheet or similar, and let the magic happen.  When the cooking time has elapsed, carefully take it out of the oven and open the top of the foil – preferably without burning yourself on the steam.  It will be hot so please remember that burns are not in this year.

Once you can open the parcel safely, gently wrangle the fish onto your serving plate.  Serve with steamed vegetable and jasmine rice.

Happy Eating  :P

I couldn't resist trying a tender forkful of fish

I couldn’t resist trying a tender forkful of fish

Thai Scented Oven Baked Salmon Parcels

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 generously

  • 4 x 150g/5.3oz  fillets of salmon
  • 2 teaspoons/10mL oil (olive, canola or coconut would all be fine)
  • 1 medium bunch coriander leaves and stem, well washed and roughly chopped
  • 4 cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic, or to taste
  • 8 level teaspoons red curry paste
  • 2 limes, halved
  • 2/3 cup/5.5 fl oz/160mL coconut milk, regular, reduced fat and low fat all fine

Preheat oven to 180 °C (355 °F).   Lay out 4 separate pieces of aluminium foil (double thickness each) in a square of 30cm x 30cm/12 “x 12 “.  Oil the centre of each square with 1/2 teaspoon of oil to prevent the fish from sticking to the aluminium foil.  Place a piece of fish on top of each piece of foil.  Evenly distribute the coriander between the four fish pieces.  Next, onto each piece of salmon place 4 quarters of cherry tomato,  2 teaspoons of crushed garlic, 2 level teaspoons of curry paste, the juice of half a lime, and 40mL/1.3 fl oz of coconut milk.  Seal the aluminium parcels and bake for 20 minutes, or until salmon is done to your liking.  Serve with jasmine rice and steamed asian vegetables.

Back to Basics – Roast Vegetables

Roast Vegetables

Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and remember how things started.  Roast chicken and vegetables was one of the first complete meals I cooked my family at the grand old age of 12.  I felt so grown up then, and super happy to have plated up a complete meal to my family.  I don’t know if Mum appreciated it as much.  I have a feeling I made a mess of the kitchen.  She was nice about it, though, and so the tradition of my cooking one main meal a week (complete with sides) began.  This is obviously not the same roasted vegetables as I had prepared way back when, but the evolution of the dish.

This is more of a general idea rather than a specific recipe.  The vegetable you use will depend entirely on what you have at home, and what you like to eat :P  Sometimes, I may roast potatoes alone, with just some salt and pepper.  Other days, it will be more like above, and I throw things together and hope for the best.  Incidentally, it was a delicious experiment.  There are a couple of things that you should remember.  Firstly, do not overcrowd the pan, It will stew rather than roast if there is no room for the air to circulate.  Secondly, use enough oil to give all the vegetables a light coating, but not so much so that they are swimming in oil. I use a pastry brush to do this.  Remember to cut your root vegetables into even sized pieces.  As I find potato takes longer to cook than pumpkin and sweet potato, I tend to cut these slightly smaller than the sweet potato and pumpkin.  Also beetroot, which can take a bit longer to cook than other vegetables of a similar size, is another vegetable that should be smaller than its friends in the cooking tray.  I always cut these into much smaller pieces than the potatoes, sweet potatoes or pumpkin.   I always salt this dish before cooking, but you can leave this out if you wish.

Just prior to putting in the oven

Just prior to putting in the oven

VARIATIONS: You are limited only by your imagination.   Don’t just roast potatoes, try cauliflower, pumpkin, zucchini, carrots, even sweet corn! Instead of brushing with plain oil, you could make a mixture of melted butter and oil (I use olive on its own), or cooking spray.  As far as seasoning the roast, the sky is the limit, but here are a few of my favourite combinations – Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika to your oil before brushing over vegetables and sprinkle  some extra over the vegetables just before serving;  sprinkle vegetables with salt, lemon rind and lemon pepper before roasting; add 3 or 4  lightly crushed (unpeeled) garlic cloves to the roast after the first 20 minutes has passed, with some rosemary (lovely with a roast lamb); 1 to 2 teaspoons of cumin powder mixed into your oil before brushing over vegetable (very good with roasted cauliflower).

Happy Eating :P

Back to Basics – Roast Vegetables

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time:  65 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 serves

  • 2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 2.5 cm/1 inch cubes or wedges
  • 2 parsnips, peeled and cut into pieces consistent with the sweet potato
  • 1 medium beetroot, washed and well scrubbed, cut into 16 pieces
  • 1 fennel bulb, cleaned, top/fronds reserved, bulb sliced into 1cm/0.5 inch slices
  • 1 sweet red onion, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
  • 20 whole brussel sprouts, cleaned
  • 100g/3.5 oz fresh green beans, cleaned and tailed
  • 1 yellow capsicum, cleaned and sliced into 8 to 10 wedges
  • 1/4 cup/125 mL olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
  • 2 teaspoons cumin power
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 180 °C (355 °F).  Place the sweet potato, parsnip, beetroot, fennel bulb , red onion and brussel sprouts into your baking tray.  Using your pastry brush, brush the oil over the vegetables, reserving 1 tablespoon.  Sprinkle with the chilli flakes and cumin powder, salt and pepper.  Toss the vegetables, then roast for 40 minutes.  In the meantime, toss the reserved fennel top, beans and capsicum  with the reserved oil.  Once 40 minutes has elapsed, add the quicker cooking beans, fennel top and capsicum to the rest of the vegetables, making sure to mix well so that the flavours are well incorporated.  Return the try to the oven and cook for a further 25 minutes or until done to your liking.  Serve alongside your favourite roast, with or without gravy.  Enjoy!

Plated up!

Plated up!

 

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek in Red Wine and Capsicum Sauce

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek in Red Wine and Capsicum SauceWell my pretties, it has been a while.  Please forgive the decided lack of posts the last couple of months, I promise to do better!  Life got in the way of my blogging, and by life I mean our oven blew up.  It seriously did.  Scuba was cooking one night and BAM!  The fuses were blown and so was the oven.  It’s ok, I had it fixed and it is working again.  Then the air con decided to start leaking..  It is also repaired.  I tells ya, it never rains, it pours.

So onto my latest creation.  Beef cheeks are an awesome cut of meat.  With the right cooking, they are fall apart tender with a lovely texture, and lend themselves to any type of braising, slow cooking or slow roasting.  I have cooked it many ways, and I find I do like the stove top method of braising this wonderful meat the best as I can keep it it submerged in its simmering liquid and top it up quite easily.  This is definitely not a quick weeknight meal, unless you start it in a slow cooker and leave it to cook while you do more exciting things :P

VARIATIONS:  This recipe can be fiddled with if you can’t find beef cheeks.  Any cut of lean beef that is suitable for stewing, like chuck steak, brisket or gravy beef should be fine.  Also, you don’t have to use red wine.  Beef or chicken stock will be fine.  I used chicken stock so that the red capsicum would shine through.  If you don’t want to use asparagus, green beans are also nice.

GLUTEN FREE SUBSTITUTIONS: Choose a gluten free pasta or rice to serve.  Use home-made chicken stock in lieu of store bought or bouillon cube or just use water.

Begin by making a mirepoix – a French term for an aromatic mixture of onion, celery and carrot that is diced finely and sweated off in some olive oil.  I also added a pinch of salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper at this point.  To this, we will add garlic and the first 2 red capsicums, also finely diced.

We will continue to sweat the vegetables off in the oil until the onion becomes translucent and some of the lovely red from the capsicum leaches out and makes the onion turn a faint yellow.  This should take about 10 minutes.   Now, push the vegetables to the edge of the pot and clear a space in the centre to brown our meat.  Turn the heat to a medium-high heat and brown the meat for about 5 minutes on each side, being careful not to burn the vegetables.

Once nicely browned, add the wine and the stock and bring to the boil.  Cover and reduce heat so that the pot id gently simmering.  Simmer for two to three hours, or until the meat can be easily shredded.  You may need to top up the the pot with water , so check the pot every 30 minutes to every hour,  I found that I needed 1 cup of water every hour to stop the pot from boiling dry.

Once the meat is ready to be shredded, remove from the pot and keep warm.  Add the remaining red capsicum to the pot, and simmer gently for 45 minutes.  I know, I know, there is already red capsicum in the pot, but we are trying to amp up and enhance the capsicum flavour.  Plus the sauce will have a more vibrant red colour by adding capsicum later in the cooking.  You may wish to simmer with the lid off as we are trying to create a thick sauce of between 2 to 3 cups volume.  You can drain off some of the cooking liquid if you have too much or you could  prepare a double lot of the capsicum sauce and freeze the extra, it makes a luscious soup especially with a dash of cream.  While the capsicum is doing its thing, shred the meat.

I did this with my fingers (which were clean!) as this meant that when I was finished, any meat that ‘fell’ off the chopping board was fair game.  Also, prepare your asparagus and pasta, I had gnocci with mine which only takes 2 minutes to cook!  Once you have the capsicum nicely cooked and it is at the right volume, get out your trusty stick blender and blitz away.  I like mine fairly fine so I blitzed until there were no chunks.  Look how pretty it is.  If you are being super fancy, you could strain the capsicum sauce through a muslin cloth.    Return the meat to the pot with the asparagus.  Check the seasoning and adjust if needed.  After 2 minutes on a low heat, add the gnocci (or pasta of your choice) to the pot and stir.  Serve with crusty bread and a glass of the leftover wine.  Yummy.

Happy Noshing :P

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek in Red Wine and Capsicum Sauce

Slow Cooked Beef Cheek in Red Wine and Capsicum Sauce

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: up to 4 hours

Yield: Serves 4 generously

  • 3 tablespoons/60 mL olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, finely diced
  • 3 stalks of celery, finely diced
  • 2 red capsicum, finely diced
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon crushed garlic (about 4 fat cloves) or to taste
  • 600 grams/1.3 lb beef cheeks, whole
  • 2 cups/500 mL  red wine
  • 1 cup/250 mL chicken stock
  • 2-3 cups/500-750 mL water, extra
  • 2 capsicum, extra, rough dice
  • 2 bunches asparagus, woody part trimmed and sliced into 2.5 cm batons
  • salt and pepper – extra, to taste if needed
  • 450g/1 lb pasta of choice

Heat the oil.  Add the onion, celery, carrot salt and pepper.  Stir, then add the capsicum and garlic.  Let cook on a medium heat until onions become translucent, stirring occasionally.

Move the vegetables to the edge of the pan, turn up the heat and add the beef cheeks. Brown the cheeks for about 5 minutes on each side, being careful not to burn the vegetables.

Once the meat is browned, add the wine and the stock to the pan, brig to boil , then reduce heat to a simmer.

Simmer, covered, for 2 to 3 hours, topping up the liquid in the pot with water as needed every 30 minutes to stop the pot running dry.  When the meat is easily shredded, remove it from the pot and keep warm.

Add the extra capsicum to the liquid in the pot and simmer until tender, from 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the pieces.  You may wish to simmer the capsicum uncovered to reduce the cooking liquid, as we are aiming for about 2 1/2 cups of capsicum purée  to plate up with.

While the capsicum is cooking, shred the meat, prepare the asparagus, and get the water boiling for your pasta of choice.  5 minutes before the capsicum is ready, start cooking your pasta.

Once the capsicum is cooked, blend it with the mirepoix and enough cooking liquid to make up to about 2 1/2 cups of sauce.  Reintroduce the beef cheeks into the sauce and add the asparagus.  Check for salt and pepper and add extra to taste if needed.  Cook at a simmer for 2 minutes, just long enough to heat the meat thoroughly and to just cook the asparagus.  Add your pasta of choice to your sauce, stir and serve.

Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Extract

This is something I made a while ago.  The beauty of this lovely extract is that it will keep indefinitely, due to the high alcohol content.  All you need is alcohol and vanilla beans.  I actually used bourbon this time around, but any 35% or 70 proof (or stronger) alcohol will work.  It makes a fantastic gift and can even be used as wedding favours.  You can even print pretty labels to place on the bottles to personalise the gift.

VARIATIONS: I use 5 or 6 vanilla bean pods in my extract as I like it quite strong.  You could always reduce the amount to 3 or 4 if you prefer.  Also, the type of alcohol can be varied to change the taste.   Think vanilla rum extract, or vanilla vodka extract.  Or maybe tequila or brandy vanilla extract if more your style.

USES:  While we’re not making this to drink, but rather to enhance our baked treats, there is no rule to say you can’t drink it.  A nip of vanilla laced bourbon would hit the spot right about now.  Or maybe a ‘special’ spiked coffee.  Or, OMG, an adults only milkshake…  You can thank me later.

Happy Tasting :P

VANILLA EXTRACT

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Infusing time: 2 months

Yield: 250 mL/1 cup, 50 serves

  • 5-6 vanilla beans
  • up to 250 ml/ 1 cup 35% (70 proof) alcohol, I used bourbon
  • 250mL/1 cup capacity glass bottle

Split the vanilla bean pods in half 4/5 of the way along its length.  Place the vanilla beans into the bottle.  Fill the bottle up with your choice of alcohol.  Close bottle and invert a couple of times.  Store in a cupboard or pantry for 2 months before using, inverting the bottle every few days.  As the volume decreases to 1/3 of the bottle, top up the liquid with you choice of alcohol.  You can also add spent vanilla beans used in other recipes to boost the vanilla flavour.

LINKS:

Vanilla Bean Facts

Wikipedia’s take on Vanilla Extract

I Found Free Label Templates Here!  Just download and alter at will.

Vanilla and Star Anise Infused Sugar

Vanilla Star Anise Infused Sugar

Vanilla infused sugar has to be the easiest recipe I know.  It is also tempting to eat it straight from the canister, although you probably shouldn’t.  Every time you open the lid, the heavenly smell of vanilla envelops you.  The hardest part of the recipe is waiting the 3 to 6 weeks for the flavour of the infusion to fully develop.  This is another recipe that you can increase the quantities to give as a gift.  An additional bonus to this recipe is that it utilises a vanilla bean that has already been spent.  That is, you have scraped the delicious caviar out and used it for another luscious morsel.  Instead of throwing away the empty pod, you can utilise it and make some vanilla sugar, vanilla extract or even some vanilla syrup.  Some people like to remove or sift out the solid particulate out of the castor sugar, but I like how it looks left in.  At the last minute, I got creative and decided to add some star anise to my vanilla sugar base to add a little je ne sais quoi.  What a fabulous idea that turned out to be.

VARIATIONS:  Infused sugars are not limited to just vanilla, although vanilla is the most well known.  Cinnamon, cloves, glace ginger, rose petals (organic), violet petals (organic), lavender,fresh rosemary, dried orange, mandarin or lemon peel can all make wonderfully different infused sugars, and they make great gifts.  My favourites are ginger & cardamom infused sugar, and vanilla & star anise infused sugar.

USES: Depending on the flavour, there are a multitude of uses for this delicacy.  Scatter over your crepes, have it in your herbal tea or latte, substituted for regular sugar in your baking,  muddle it in a cocktail or rim the glass with it, mix it with butter and smear it on hot toast or rain it over cookies before baking them.  You could even pour it over Crème Brûlée  before flaming it with a blowtorch.  Yum!

Begin by pouring half your sugar into your storage jar.  Now look at the sugar.  Do not eat the sugar.  This is important.

Push the vanilla beans into the sugar.  Try and spread them out so they can more easily share their perfumed goodness into their environment.

Now top up the jar with more sugar.  Leave about a 2.5cm (or 1″) gap so that you can shake the sugar jar freely.

And here is where I decided to add the star anise.  I would have added it in three steps if I had planned to use it – 1/3 on the bottom or the jar, 1/3 when  half the sugar was added, and the rest after all the sugar was in the jar.  As it was, I just inverted the jar a few more times, and used the handle of my wooden spoon to push the pods deeper into the sugar.

Happy Sprinkling   :P

Vanilla Star Anise Infused Sugar

VANILLA AND STAR ANISE INFUSED SUGAR

Preparation time: 5  minutes

Infusing time: 3 to 6 weeks

Yield: 4 1/2 Cups

  • 900 grams/28 oz/ 4 cups caster (superfine) sugar
  • split and spent vanilla bean, caviar used in another recipe
  • 9 – 12 star anise
  • 1 kg/32 oz jar, to store

Place 1/3 of your star anise into you clean and dry jar.  Pour half the sugar (2 cups) into the jar.  Insert your spent vanilla pods into the sugar.  Try and spread the pods so they can come into contact with as much sugar as possible.  Scatter a further 1/3 of the star anise on top of the sugar and vanilla bean pods.  Add the remaining sugar to the jar.  Top the sugar with the last portion of star anise.  Shake the jar.  Store in a cupboard or pantry.  Shake the jar every few days, and start using when flavour has developed to your satisfaction.  If desired, sift out the spices at this time.

LINKS:

Types of Vanilla 

Some Star Anise Information

I Found Free Label Templates Here!  Just download and alter at will.

Chinese Five Spice Pork with Green Beans

Chinese Five Spice Pork with Green Beans

I love Chinese Five Spice powder.  A combination of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel seed and sichuan pepper (also known as szechwan or szechuan) that has been toasted and finely ground, it smells deliciously divine and I love to use often and liberally.  So when I came home from the market with a big bag of fresh green beans, I just knew what I had to do.  Off I went to the supermarket to get some pork mince.  Now, snake beans are the usual bean in this morish dish, but I didn’t have any and I WANTED MY FIVE SPICE PORK AND BEANS!!!  Well, I thought, it will taste different, but it should work.  I love it when I’m  right :D It was fantastic! Delicious!  Dare I mention I had to hide the (meagre) leftovers from my better half – Scuba ( I know, I don’t get it either) so that I could eke out lunch the next day with it (I mean, seriously, Scuba?  How did that become his nickname?  He doesn’t even dive! I’m so confused…).  Moving right along, you can have this meal on the table within 30 minutes, if you are handy with the knife or even faster if the beans are pre prepped.  While this is a fairly forgiving recipe, I wouldn’t use frozen beans as they are quite moist and they will end up soggy, not firm, and will water down the flavours of this dish.

VARIATIONS:  This recipe lends itself to multiple add in and variations.  Firstly, you don’t have to use pork mince in this dish.  Chicken or turkey mince is just as nice.  Tofu is also lovely, but I add 1/4 cup water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon of cornflour for this variation as I think it needs the moisture.  The tofu I add when I would normally add the mince so I can stir fry it, whereas I add the cornflour mixture in the last minute of cooking.  Snake beans in lieu of the green beans is how I normally prepare this dish.  If you haven’t tried them, and have access to them, I do urge you to experiment with them.  You will not be disappointed.  Prepare and cook them as per the green beans.  I usually put 1 can of shredded water chestnuts and bamboo shoots in, but didn’t have any. Spring onion is lovely mixed through at the end, as are a couple of handfuls of bean sprouts or even crushed peanuts.  Also,  You can use fresh chilli instead of dried and a half a cup of torn coriander (cilantro) or thai basil will lift this dish to the next level.

GLUTEN FREE SUBSTITUTIONS: Replace the cooking wine with sake, a gluten free mirin, or a dry sherry.  You can leave it out completely also.  Instead of the kecap manis, use a mixture of honey, molasses or dark brown sugar and some gluten-free tamari soy sauce.

Begin by preparing your beans.  Make sure you trim off any yucky looking bits, cut off the ends and throw away any that look dismal.  Slice the beans into 5 cm (or 2″) lengths.  Wash and drain well, as we will be stir frying the beans and excess water can cause the dish to spit at you, and nobody likes that.

Heat up your wok (or electric fry pan, whatever works for you.  Just make sure it’s big enough) and your oil.  When it is quite hot, add your green beans.  Now, BE CAREFUL!  This is where things can get slightly snarly.  The water from the beans will hit that hot oil and the hot oil will attack you.  It doesn’t mean anything by it though, if that makes you feel better. Carefully keep the beans moving while avoiding the bombardment.  You should find that the water eventually evaporated, leaving you safe from the offensive.  Keep stir frying the beans for about 15 minutes, until they lose their rigidity and become somewhat blackened (not charcoal, but charred).  The beans will also look lovely and glossy.

I admit it.  I did eat one at this point.

Now, remove the beans from the pan.  Weren’t expecting that, were you?Chinese Five Spice Pork and Green Beans

It’s time for the pork :D YAY!! Put a bit of oil into your wok, again on a high heat, and add the pork.  Actually, you may not need the oil at this point if your pork mince is a bit fatty.  See how you go.  Break up the meat so it doesn’t form a solid mass.  Quickly add the star anise and crushed chilli flakes.  Stir.

Now for the ginger and garlic.  Stir it up again.

And now for the magic ingredient – the Chinese five spice powder.  Don’t be afraid to smell it.  IT”S SO GOOD!

Give it a good mix.  Keep stir frying until the pinkness is cooked out of the pork.

Then add the Shaoxing cooking wine (or mirin, or cooking sake, or even a splash of sherry.  I told you this was a forgiving recipe), the kecap manis (a sweet soy sauce, if you can’t find this you can use hoisin sauce, char sui sauce if you have it, or even 1 tablespoon soy : 1 teaspoon brown sugar/honey ratio per tablespoon of kecap manis needed) and the sesame oil.

Give it a quick stir, and then reintroduce the beans back into the pan.  They look happy to meet the pork, don’t you think? Keep cooking until beans are again piping hot.  The time from when you add the pork to when the dish is finished should be 5-7 minute.  Serve up with rice, or on its own (as I did).  You can finish with drizzle of kecap manis and an extra sprinkle of Chinese five spice powder if desired.

Happy Eating :P

Chinese Five Spice Pork with Green Beans

CHINESE FIVE SPICE PORK WITH GREEN BEANS

Preparation time: 5 – 8 minutes

Cooking time: 25-27 minutes

Yield: Serves 4 without rice, serves 6 with rice

  • 750 grams/1.5 lb green beans, trimmed and well washed, cut into 5 cm/2″ lengths
  • 1 tablespoon/20mL high smoke point oil – peanut, grapeseed, canola,  or coconut oil is suitable.
  • 400 – 450 grams/13-14oz pork mince
  • 1 teaspoon/5mL high smoke point oil, extra
  • 2 whole star anise
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed chilli flakes
  •  2 teaspoons crushed garlic (about 2 fat cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons crushed/grated  ginger (about 2cm/3/4″ piece)
  • 2 teaspoons Chinese five spice
  • 2 tablespoons/40mL Shaoxing cooking wine
  • 1/4 cup/60mL kecap manis
  • 2 teaspoons/10mL sesame oil
  • kecap mani and Chinese five spice powder – extra, to serve

N.B. There is no added salt as I feel there is enough salt in the kecap manis.  However, if you desire more salty goodness, feel free to add a little at your own discretion. 

Drain the prepared beans well.  Heat the first measure of oil (I used canola) in the wok until almost smoking.  Carefully add the green beans to the wok, and stir fry the beans.  Continue to keep the beans moving.

After about 15 minutes, the beans should be a somewhat blackened and bendy.  They should also be glossy.  At this point, remove the beans from the wok and set aside.

Into the hot wok, add the second (optional) measure of oil.  If not using, just move on to the next step.  Add the pork mince to the wok.  Keep the mince moving, and break up any clumps.  While stir frying, add the star anise, crushed chilli flakes, the garlic, the ginger and the Chinese five spice.  Keep stirring until the pinkness is cooked out of the mince.  This should take about 3-4 minutes.

Now add the cooking wine and the kecap manis.  Add the sesame oil, stir and add the reserved beans.  Stir fry until beans are again piping hot – about 2-4 minutes.

Serve as is or with some steamed rice.  Garnish with a drizzle of kecap manis, and a sprinkle of Chinese five spice powder, if desired.