Friday, October 21, 2011

Prêt à Manger

With the weather turning warm and daylight saving upon us, it is the perfect time to head outside, find a patch of grass and enjoy lunch or dinner in the fresh air. Picnic food should always be easy to transport, simple to store and most of all delicious and un-fussy. Today's recipe is something that ticks all of these boxes and really embodies the French idea of Prêt à Manger (ready to eat). My smoked chicken and broccoli tart is easy to make, but nice enough to serve to guests and is perfect to take to a picnic. It can be eaten warm or cold, by itself or with a side salad and can also be made the day before.

Smoked chicken is a great, flavoursome ingredient that is also terrific in salads. That lovely smoky flavour is delicious, and it works really well in this tart. You can buy smoked chicken at most large supermarkets these days or gourmet delis. The chicken is usually sold in peices - breasts, thighs or drumsticks. I recommend the drumsticks or thighs over the breasts - lots more flavour. Just cut the meat off the bones. (Save the bones for your stock pot) and ensure there are no stray bits of bone in the meat, before adding it to your dish.

This recipe could easily be made into individual one serve tarts or even tiny cocktail sized ones - Great as finger food or BBQ nibbles.

My nasturtium plants have gone crazy in the garden in the last few weeks and are blooming profusely right now, so I decided to serve my smoked chicken and broccoli tart adorned with these lovely edible flowers - perfect for Spring.

Smoked Chicken and Broccoli Tart

You will need: 1-2 Sheets shortcrust pastry (depending on size/shape of the dish you will be cooking it in), 4 free range eggs, 150ml cream, 1/2 cup thinly sliced spring onion, 1 cup finely diced smoked chicken, 2 cups broccoli (or broccolini),  1 cup grated cheese (I used half cheddar, half mozzerella), 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.

Method: Line a quiche or pie dish with the pastry. Put the dish in the fridge for about 10 minutes to chill down.

While the pastry is chilling, steam the broccoli until only just cooked. (I use the microwave to do this) Set the broccoli aside.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Lay a sheet of baking paper over the top of the pastry and then place baking weights on top (if you dont have these, dried beans or rice are a good substitute) Cook the pastry for about 15 minutes, until it starts to turn golden. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Whisk together the eggs, cream, cayenne, a generous pinch of salt and a generous seasoning of pepper.

Remove the weights and the baking paper from the pastry case. sprinkle about a third of the cheese over the base, then all of the spring onion and smoked chicken. Top with another third of the cheese.

Arrange the broccoli on top, sprinkle over the last of the cheese and season with a little pepper. Gently pour the egg mixture over the top, ensuring that it is evenly distributed.

Bake in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the egg mixture is just set. Remove from the oven, allow to cool.

Serve warm or cold.


Sunday, October 16, 2011

Beautiful Beef

Last weekend we visited the fabulous Feather and Bone Providores to check out their butcher shop, located in a warehouse in the back streets of Rozelle. They specialise in sustainably grown meat with the focus on guaranteeing provenance - that is, knowing exactly where and how the meat is produced. All products are sourced locally, and because they have such close relationships with the producers, they can not only tell you where the meat was raised, what it was fed, the sustainabilty practices of the farm that it came from, but even which paddock it lived in!

Because they deal with small producers, supply often fluctuates, sometimes they will only get small amounts of a product, so they issue a newsletter to customers every week telling them what is in stock for the next 7 days - you can't get more seasonal than that! They supply meat and game, poultry, eggs and a range artisan products such as handmade sausages, pates and terrines. Most of their business is based online and they deliver all over Sydney, but you can also arrange to pick up your order from their butchery in Rozelle. To find out more go to

We came away with some pork and fennel sausages, lovely Wagyu rump steaks, a free range chicken and a large piece of Dexter Beef rump from the mid north coast of New South Wales.

The Dexter breed originates from Ireland and is one of the smallest European breeds of cattle. They produce beautiful quality milk and beef. Once quite rare, some cattle farmers in Australia have started breeding them very sucessfully, especially in New South Wales and Tasmania. I was curious to see what the meat tasted like, as I had heard about how great it was, but had never seen it for sale anywhere until now.

I chose to cook the beef in one piece, over the coals on the BBQ. I just don't think you can beat cooking over coals for flavour. I seasoned the meat well with Murray River pink salt and plently of pepper, and made sure the beef was at room temerature before cooking it. Never cook meat straight from the fridge - the muscle fibres in the meat contract quickly when they hit the heat and the result is tough meat. Second rule of course is to always rest your meat before carving it. I rested the roast for about 20 minutes.

Roasted Dexter Beef

I decided against a traditional roast beef dinner and instead went for something with a bit of a French influence, choosing to serve the Dexter beef roast with a luscious potato galette (my recipe below is based on Julia Child's) and a fresh parsley and caper sauce.

Potato Galette

The beef had a fantastic flavour - quite lean but with a delicious crust on the outside, created by rubbing the thin layer of fat with the salt, and the effect of cooking over the coals.The accompaniments were a perfect addition to an outstanding piece of beef - and a perfect seasonal Spring menu. I will definitely be buying Dexter beef again, for it's wonderful flavour.

Roasted Dexter Beef
With potato galette and parsley and caper Sauce

Cooking the meat was very basic, so I haven't included cooking instructions - however I have included the recipes for both of today's side dishes - they would be lovely with any kind of meat, including poultry or even fish. As Julia would say - Bon Appetit!

Parsley and Caper Sauce

You will need: 1 large bunch continental parsley chopped, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 tablespoon capers, 2 spring onions sliced finely, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 4 anchovies chopped finely, 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons warm water, 1 teaspoon sugar, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper to season.

Method: Combine all of the ingredients in a food processor until well blended. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper as needed. Cover with gladwrap until ready to serve. This can be made a few hours ahead and stored in the fridge.

Potato Galette

You will need: About 1 kg washed, peeled whole potatoes, 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary chopped finely, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 1 tablespoon salted butter, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper.

Method: Melt the butter and combine in a small bowl with the olive oil, rosemary and garlic. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Slice the potatoes very thinly (a mandolin or slicing attachment of the food processor is great for this)

Place the potatoes in a layer in a springform cake tin, or a round pie tin. Brush with the butter mixture and season with salt and pepper. Continue building up layers until you have used all of the potato.

Cover the dish with foil and bake for 1 hour. Remove the foil and continue to bake for a further 30 minutes, until the top is crispy and golden.

Allow the dish to rest for about 10 minutes before cutting into wedge shaped slices and serving.


Friday, October 7, 2011

Blueberry & Almond Muffins

Every time I see blueberries, my thoughts immediately turn to one of my favourite childhood stories - Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I remember being delighted and very amused as the horrible gum chewing Violet Beauregarde swelled up and turned into a big round blueberry after ignoring Willy Wonka's pleas to not eat his experimental candy! As a bit of a nod to Willy Wonka, I have chosen candy striped wrappers for today's recipe - delicious blueberry and almond muffins.

These blueberry muffins are not overly sweet, and the addition of lemon rind and almond meal gives them a lovely aroma and texture - not to mention a delicious, slightly nutty taste. Although my recipe below says to use a punnet of blueberries, this is only a guide - I actually used more than that, as I wanted the muffins to be more packed with fruit. But use as many as you feel like. The slivered almonds on the top make a lovely crunchy texture, in contast with the soft, moist centres of the muffins.

This recipe is very easy to make - kids could easily put them together. The muffins only take 25 minutes to cook - more than enough time to tell them the cautionary tale of Violet Beauregarde!

Almond and Blueberry Muffins

You will need: 220g self raising flour, 1/2 cup caster sugar, 2 tablespoons almond meal, 3/4 cup milk, 3/4 cup vegetable oil, 1 freerange egg, grated rind of 1/2 a lemon, 1 punnet fresh blueberries, 1 tablespoon flaked almonds.
Method: Preheat the oven to 220C.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, almond meal and lemon rind.

In another bowl, whisk together the milk, vegetable oil and egg.

Make a well in the centre of the bowl with the dry ingredients and pour in the wet ingredients. Add the blueberries and gently combine, using a spatula. The idea is not to overmix - use a light touch and only mix enough to just combine the ingredients.

Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin pan or patty pans. Sprinkle a few of the flaked almonds over the top of each muffin and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes, or until the muffins are golden.