Wednesday, 14 September 2011

One-pot wonders

I have strong memories of the large pots of stew my grandmother made. They were put together in a slightly battered old pot that belied her culinary expertise and this stew’s restorative value. All kinds of things seemed to go into that pot in a slightly mysterious way and what she produced was pure magic. I now realise my grandmother was a master of one-pot cookery.

In cooking theory, a lidded ‘pot’ is the norm for one-pot cookery. Even pot-pies have a lid of pastry to cover and seal them. The pot can cook over direct heat on the stove top or in the oven but the key is to keep the heat down so that the food simmers and the flavours are gently extracted.

The one-pot cooking method is a chinch – all ingredients go into a single vessel to produce a complete meal of meat or fish, vegetables and often a starch as well. Try adding pasta, rice, soaked dried beans or chickpeas to thicken meat or vegetable stews, allowing lots of extra liquid for these to cook thoroughly. Not only does this streamlined cooking process produce flavour-filled dishes every time but there’s the delicious added bonus of minimal washing-up.

When life seems to get busier by the day, it’s worthwhile taking the time to linger over a cooking pot and to relish its gentle, unhurried bubbling. To watch a delicious dish simmer, slowly, can be a very restorative diversion. And some slow cook dishes can even be left alone to cook while you get on with something else.

For recipes that require simmering for some time, it’s best to add most of the seasoning towards the end of cooking. As the food cooks, liquids reduce and flavours are concentrated, so for example, saltiness is especially heightened. Remember you can always add more seasoning to taste but it’s difficult to remove an excess.

It is possible to adapt recipes and distil composite meals down to one-pot preparations. Take for example, classic chicken and three veg. Here’s a one-pot version: place a whole chicken in a large pot surrounded by some chopped carrots and potatoes and six quartered tomatoes, with 2 cups each of verjuice and chicken stock. Cover and simmer for 1 hour, then break up the chicken, season well and scatter with chopped fresh oregano. Serve in big flat bowls with some lovely crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Slowly simmering food is one of the most ancient forms of cooking. Whether the recipe you choose to follow is an age-old stew or a modern combination, the resulting all-in-one meal will surely revive any flagging spirits or jaded palates.

This hearty Irish dish is thick with chunks of beef and vegetables. The addition of Guinness not only adds a rich, malty flavour but also works to tenderise the meat.
Serves 4
Olive oil
700g cubed beef stewing steak, trimmed of skin and excess fat
300g small pickling onions or shallots, peeled
2 carrots, peeled and sliced on an angle
2 sticks celery, sliced on an angle
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
300ml Guinness
2 cups reduced beef stock (available from supermarkets in vacuum packs)
1 Heat a large heavy-based saucepan with a little olive oil and brown meat in 2 to 3 batches. Remove meat to one side.
2 Add onions, carrots and celery to the pan and stir-fry for 5 minutes to lightly brown. Add garlic and cook for 1 minute more. Add Guinness and simmer for 10 minutes to reduce liquid.
3 Return meat to the pan. Add stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, half cover the pan and gently simmer for 1 1/2 hours until the meat is very tender and sauce reduced and thickened. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to taste.
Recipe and photo ©copyright Julie Le Clerc 2011

Chef’s secret: Guinness is dry Irish stout. Distinctive features of Guinness are the malty, unfermented roast barley flavour, deep, dark colour and thick creamy head.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Cafe Secrets exposed TV3, 5pm, Sundays

In this 8 part series of "Café Secrets," I visit some of NZs best-loved cafés and meet the owners, who share with me the secrets to their success. I persuade the café owners to give away their most popular recipes and in turn I share some favourite recipes and cooking tips of my own. All the recipes are both interesting and easily achievable. The twist is that every café I visit has a strong involvement with a community project and I get stuck in, help out and feed the hungry workers.

There’s no doubt about it – we’ve embraced café culture and there’s no turning back! Café menus offer something for everyone: from all-day breakfast and weekend brunch, to stylish lunch dishes, portable meals, and sweet treats to enjoy with great espresso or a nice cup of tea, anytime of day. Cafés are now such a huge part of most people’s lives, so I know café-lovers will be fascinated to see behind the scenes and learn what makes our favourite eateries so successful.

I know viewers will love the insights this series gives into the realities of owning a café and how cafés are such an important meeting place for communities. And to discover closely guarded secret recipes for some of the most popular café dishes served in New Zealand is a real bonus. This show provides café-lovers with the recipes and know-how to recreate the delights of café-style food in their own kitchens.

It was a pleasure and a privilege for me to meet the various café owners and to share time with them in their busy kitchens. I felt an instant connection with them, as we share a café background and a passion for creating great café-style food. Every café has its own personality and unique story to tell and I was inspired by the passion and dedication of the owners to their business and the wonderful community connections they have created.

Don't miss this fascinating insight into NZ café culture.

"Café Secrets"; Sundays at 5pm; TV3 – Presented by Julie Le Clerc

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Saturday, 25 June 2011

I love Cannelés de Bordeaux

Move over macarons, I predict Cannelés de Bordeaux will be the new sexy love of our palates. I ate my first Canelé many years ago in Bordeaux and now every time I return to France I seek out these gorgeous little sweet treats. They are very specialised creations and more difficult to master than macarons, so are rarely seen in New Zealand. But finally some versions are starting to appear on our shores.  

Canneles for sale, Paris
If you like French macarons then you're bound to love cannelés, also. These small French delicacies don't look all that exciting but one bite and you'll be smitten. Cannelés have a soft and tender buttery, custardy centre and a dark, thick caramelised sugar crust. Always made in distinctive striated cylinder copper moulds, cannelés are a specialty of the Bordeaux region of France but can often be found elsewhere, such as in Parisian patisseries, as well.
I’ve owned silicon cannelé moulds for a long time and have had okay results but I’ve always read that the traditional copper moulds are the way to go. So, last year when I was in Paris I bought some copper moulds – they really are very pretty, so if I figure that even if I never use them I’ll just love owning them as beautiful kitchen things.
This week I devoted time to experimenting with cannelés production. First up you have to realise the prepared batter needs to rest for at least 24 hours – 48 hours is even better – so you must plan ahead to produce canelés. Next, I had to ‘season’ my new copper cannelé moulds – they need to be brushed with oil and baked for 20 minutes so that they build up a non-stick surface – rather like seasoning a new crêpe pan, for example.  
attractive copper canneles moulds

So, now my lovely copper moulds are ready and so is my cannelé batter. I decide to do a comparison with the silicon moulds – and this is also because I’ve only got 6 copper moulds (they are rather expensive items!)
Made from eggs, sugar, milk, butter and flour and flavoured with rum and vanilla, the crêpe-like batter is baked for up to 2 hours at a high temperature (200°C) to give the cannelés a caramelised crust that encases a gooey custard/batter inside. Heaven in a mouthful!
At first the cannelés puff up during cooking, later deflating as they set into shape. Here’s a photo of the cannelés part way through their cooking time – they take an incredible 2 hours in the oven to build up that wonderful burnt caramel crust which gives them a fantastic flavour.
puffed up batter after 1 hour in the oven

I am filled with anticipation as I keep an eye on my baking. I’ve waited 48 hours for my batter to rest and then 2 hours for the cannelés to cook. Waiting, waiting, waiting... the sweet-caramel-vanilla perfume filling my kitchen is compelling. I can hardly wait any longer to taste these little beauties. The little silicon morsels pop out of the moulds easily but are a tiny bit dry in the middle. But alas, the bigger versions stick to the copper pans, so while they don’t look as smooth as they should they still taste pretty good.
cute little mini canneles

I’m sure the copper pans will build up a better non-stick surface with further use. And next time I’m going to get hold of some beeswax (available from health food stores) because traditionally the pans should be brushed with beeswax. I skipped this step (thinking it couldn’t be all that important) but perhaps it’s the all important way to get the best possible crust on cannelés. I’m off to buy beeswax now, so I’ll report back after my next attempt. But just before I pop to the store, I can’t resist another bite...
One bite and you'll be smitten - the contrast of textures is divine!