May 26, 2013

Book club: Mr Wilkinson's Favourite Vegetables

Time for another instalment of TPB book club and this week we're keeping it local with Melbourne-based chef, Matt Wilkinson, and his sort-of new book, Mr Wilkinson's Favourite Vegetables. A celebration of good design, good food and good fun, MWFV is an example of what happens when someone with a keen interest in growing and sourcing quality produce, and a knack for turning simple combinations into something exquisite, sits down and makes a few notes. It's a lovely demonstration of how working with the seasons can enhance any dining experience and offers recipes that aren't overly technical or challenging, but rather well-considered executions with a few added surprises that make it easy for us home kitchen hacks to step things up and take our eating to the next level.

This braised goat neck, for example, was the perfect solution to a crisp autumn evening, being all comforting and rich after a slow afternoon on the stove. Meat so soft it simply melted off the bone, this braise paired superbly with the suggested shaved fennel and mozzarella salad. Equally beautiful by itself, this dish was not only crisp and fresh but carried the added revelation of preserved lemon dressing - a true winner in its own right.

For supper, carrot cake, in what has inadvertently become my standard go-to recipe when tackling the where-do-I-start new cookbook dilemma. Not only was this a particularly worthy specimen, with its striking orange flecks and crunchy walnut studs, but was presented with the most curious serving suggestion I've ever come across - pickle and a wedge of brie (no, not this sort of pickle).

Covering the sweet or savoury, cake or cheese course options all at once, despite earlier reservations this eccentric combination naturally worked, with the sweet cake and creamy brie balanced perfectly by the punchy zing of the grated carrot, preserved lemon, raisin and ginger pickle.

Now, if somebody could please pass the port?...

May 12, 2013

Technical challenge: rough puff - part II

Round two of the rough puff challenge, and after last week's abysmal attempt at mastering galette des rois it was time to see how the two lard pastries held up when pitted against something savoury. For the comparison at first I that thought pies might be a nice option but then decided sausage rolls would actually highlight the pastry better, and so settled on Bourke Street's lamb, harissa and almond version, as they put everything into these sausage rolls that I wouldn't.

For the filling, a mountain of capsicum was first reduced into a rich red harissa paste and then combined with the unusual suspects in lamb, couscous, toasted almonds and currants. Blanketed in pastry the rolls then headed off to the oven and it was soon time to see how the two puffs had faired.

As before, the all-lard pastry (left) was slightly more difficult to roll, but it did hold it's shape better and scored that little higher when it came to the pigeon test. While it didn't puff as much as the half-butter-half-lard version (right), which also had a much smoother finish, the layering was far more defined and so it did have the appearance of being much flakier. Both performed well after a week in the freezer, and all up I felt that both were much better suited to a savoury application.

In the end it was difficult picking a favourite as there wasn't a great deal of difference between the two, but the real winner on the day turned out to be the filling. The already flavourful lamb was enhanced by the sweetness of capsicum and heat of the chilli, and with the occasional almond coriander crunch or sweet currant burst it was a really interesting and delectable lunchtime treat. For such a simple combination there was a lot going on, and even though it seemed weird at first it worked, and did so very well.

Quite yummy really.

May 4, 2013

Technical challenge: rough puff - part I

A couple of weeks ago while talking to a man in a shop about fat (as you do) he recommended I try some of their leaf lard, as they'd been told recently by another customer that it was the best thing ever for making puff. The method they described sounded simple enough but as one of the few individuals who genuinely enjoys the lengthy process of laminating butter through dough, I'd never actually made a rough puff before. Admittedly, I've also been somewhat dubious that it could ever replicate the beautiful layering that is characteristic of a good puff but I felt I should try it at some point, and since there were various opinions as to the best butter-to-lard ratio being touted, I decided to compare a full lard puff (left) with a half-butter, half-lard combination (right).

The lard was beautiful to work with, and while the 100% version was slightly less forgiving in rolling out, there wasn't a great deal of difference between the two doughs pre-bake.

To test their pastry potential I settled on galette des rois, and after each were filled with a luxurious almond cream it was time to see how the two puffs held up.

Both had their pluses and minuses. The butter-lard combination performed better aesthetically with better layering and a smoother, light golden finish; while the full lard version was better texturally, being flakier and more crisp. On first impressions neither was as good for the job as a full butter puff, but it was not the fairest of comparisons for a couple of reasons.

Those of you who've been following TPB for a while will know I've tackled the galette des rois previously and that, after a first time false sense of ability, things didn't always go so smoothly. This time was unfortunately more like the latter, and while both galettes tasted fine and sliced up alright, straight from the oven what they actually looked like was this:

It's barely a fair contest when the basis for comparison is something so disastrous, but despite the poor aesthetics it was actually taste that had me sensing that these doughs weren't quite up to the task. Leaf lard is obtained from the visceral fat that surrounds the kidneys of pigs, and while it isn't necessarily 'meaty', to my tastes it just wasn't suited to the delicate nature of a good galette. Although it was subtle I sense the flavour would go far better with something savoury, and since it only seems fair to tackle a few pies before calling it you'd all better stay tuned for round two...