Masterchef fantasy restaurant menus – here’s mine

Tuesday’s Masterchef this week featured the remaining contestants (other than Lucas and Julia) being given an opportunity to make a three course meal that they would love to serve in their own restaurant/cafe. There’s much entertaining to-ing and fro-ing about the structure of the program, etc, at Reality Raving. I for one assumed that they’d been given some notice so that the ingredients they wanted – unusual in Chris’ case, unseasonal in Sam’s – could be organised.

While I will never enter Masterchef, wanting neither a career as a chef nor a role in a reality TV show, I can indulge for a few minutes a happy fantasy about what I might cook given a similar challenge.

My fantasy joint is both local, and seasonal, so to start I would offer a little glass of creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle straws. It would look a little like the fennel/orange/truffle soup from this post at Helen’s Grab Your Fork, but homelier rather than foamlier. Jerusalem artichoke soup has great depth without weight. It also provides lots of opportunities to make comments about flatulence, which might get any first date awkwardness off to a flying start. FWIW I think the soup is so good it’s worth a fart or two.

For a starter, I would offer a tasting plate of charcuterie and preserved veggies. With the Mountain Creek Farm heritage breed meats I so love I’d make a rustic pork terrine, accompanied by a tapendade made with the oily black Homeleigh Grove semi-dried olives, and a little medallion of poached and pressed beef tongue topped with some of my home-pickled, home-grown plums from last summer. I’d serve it with a herby salad – radicchio, baby endive, parsley, hazelnuts and thin tangelo segments in a mustardy dressing made with new season olive oil.

Main course would be a perfectly baked free range chook (that means a LOT of butter, some garlic, lemon and thyme) with a cauliflower gratin. Yep, cauliflower in cheesy white sauce – it might be naff, but hands up who hates it? The chicken would be sauced with a very simple puree of eschallots and sorrel which had been sweated in butter and finished with splash of cream and OK, I never said the Heart Foundation loved me, butter. There’d be some black (aka Tuscan aka lacinato aka dinosaur aka most alternatively named vegetable available or what) kale braised with olive oil and garlic, and some sweet baby carrots. The chook might look a bit like this:

But that’s not all for you, don’t be greedy. For dessert, I’d make a more elegant (and smaller) version of this Skye Gyngell – sourced recipe I made recently for a dinner party at my dear friend Cath’s place in Elizabeth Bay. I would make her give me her dear old dead Nan’s golden edged plates to use again (that’s Cath, not Skye). Little meringues, gooey inside their crisp shells, with a quenelle of chestnut poached in milk with vanilla bean* and chestnut honey, poached prunes and runny cream. Pardon the horrible flash photograph but it was a lovely long dinner and by her own admission Cath has more wine than God:

meringue cooked

Is that something you’d like to eat? And what would I be eating at your fantasy restaurant?

* Vanilla bean in Canberra I hear you ask? I’m not a purist on the seasonal and local thing – it’s a matter of emphasis, not a religion.

Citizen food journalism – how to get a moist pork

The food and wine section of The Canberra Times had an ad last week which piqued my curiosity:

It reads:

Red Hill Butcher Shop

If you are after something special from your local butcher shop, make sure you visit Red Hill. The owners smoke their own hams on the premises, have Certified Angus Beef and moisture-infused pork and sell a variety of home-made meals and treats.

They even have a selection of wines from Mount Majura and Lerida Estate Wineries to perfectly complement that medium-rare steak.

Moisture infused pork, hey? In the olden days, when pigs were fat, they didn’t need any moisture infusions. And wasn’t there a moisture infused ham scandal a while ago? So I called the butcher to find out what they meant. For those outside Canberra, Red Hill is one of the oldest and fancy-pantsest suburbs in town, full of large homes on large blocks and lots of very long established money residents.

Tony the Butcher was at pains to point out that they were advertising the “moisture infusion” not just because they had to for legal reasons, but because they wanted to establish it as a defined product and that Australian Pork Limited, the industry body, was eager to see it marketed as such. He said that the meat had two additives, Potassium lactate (326, acidity regulator, humectant, bulking agent) and Sodium acetates ( 262, acidity regulator). (Those descriptions are from the Food Standards Australia New Zealand list of food additives and their properties.) I found him very helpful and happy to answer questions and volunteer information. Full points there.

He said that he’d been selling this pork for 12 months, and his pork sales had quadrupled in that time. He sells mainly cutlets and loin steaks, ie lean cuts that need fairly quick cooking.

Tony said that the meat is marketed as “Murray Valley Pork”, which a quick google shows is “the premium retail fresh brand of QAF Meat Industries, which is Australia’s leading producer of pork for the domestic and export markets.”

They’re certainly pushing the premium angle, appearing at the Sydney Good Food Affare (shame about that name) where they’re described like this:

Murray Valley Pork, Corowa, NSW
Succulent and absolutely delicious Murray Valley Pork from the Riverina and Murray Valley region is a premium range developed in 2005 exclusively for quality retail butchers. Moisture infusing ensures that Murray Valley Pork is always juicy and tender and its neutral flavoured brine has been specially developed to provide customers with a consistently high quality eating experience.

No mention of QAF Meat Industries and their rather unpremium business name there. But checking
QAF’s site will tell you they “now supply 20 per cent of pork to the domestic market and account for 30 to 40 per cent of all farmed pork exports from Australia. We employ more than 850 people at 10 sites across Australia, with our largest site and head office for the group located at Corowa in the Murray River basin.”

I only eat premium pork, because what I found out about industrial pig farming was so horrible I couldn’t face supermarket meat anymore. (A hat tip to Noodlebowl for sending me off on that journey – thank you.)

It must be very difficult for the real premium producers, like the wonderful Mountain Creek Farm that we buy our meat from, when industrial giants prey on the ignorance of consumers who don’t know how to cook a particular cut of meat, and are afraid of a bit of fat. You don’t have to eat the fat, you know, but it really helps your cooking. And a little bit is good for you.

I found Mountain Creek Farm by emailing the Free Range Pork Farmers’ Association and asking. If you want a moist pork, I suggest you do the same.

(PS – Michael Croft of Mountain Creek Farm keeps a terrific blog (unfortunately no RSS) where he describes the farming life, the principles behind the farm, his recent trip to the Terra Madre artisanal producers’ conference in Turin and how a man who was a vegetarian for seven years became a beef and pork producer. I have since met an ex-vegan couple who are now his enthusiastic customers – that’s how good the meat is. The farm will be featured in the 10 December issue of The Canberra Times’ Food & Wine section. Sales details are on the website. And I have no connection with them, beyond being a really happy customer.)

Stuff White People Ate

I thought we’d done well last weekend when our friend Andrew (Achilles to his mum) came around bearing an extremely impressive pastitsio.

However I think we may have just had a world record breaking weekend of eating Stuff White People Like.

First there was a cup of fair trade Ethiopian coffee (#1) and shopping at the non profit (#12) ANU Food Co-op (#48) for organic tempeh and the like (#6), followed by a trip to Choku Bai Jo (even whiter than the Farmers Market, #5). Then it was lunch at my sister’s house, a very glamourous version of surf’n'turf, fat slabs of steak from the organic butcher at Belconnen Markets, a coleslaw with homemade lime and chilli mayonnaise and a salad of prawns, avocado and kipflers:

… followed by hollowed out strawberries filled with a Campari jelly and topped with mint and lemon zest – white person heaven. The recipe is from Moveable Feast, but minus the wasabi because they’d forgotten. If only I’d known I could have bought the fresh horseradish root in the veggie crisper.

But that was just the beginning.  The peak of our weekend’s White Person experience isn’t on the Stuff White People Like site, but I heard founder Christian Lander on Radio National (#44) one day saying about the best thing you could do for a white person was cook them something from your culture and tell them it wasn’t available in restaurants or anywhere else.

Continue reading →

Francis Xavier Holden presents: Red Meat Curry

Even though it’s spring time and the salads are getting a flogging and the BBQ is all cleaned up ready to rock and roll the nights are still cool enough to allow for the odd curry or soup or other winterish type dish – before we pack away the casserole pot for another 6 months.

It was 16 degrees this arvo when I decided “Bugger it – I’ll do my Red Meat Curry”. So off to Box Hill market I went. The kilo of rump already chopped was $9.90. It was chopped a bit smallish for me – I like bigger chunks in this dish but it would save me the slicing when I got home. I bought it from the Italian guys down the end as I don’t reckon the Asian butchers have got the beef under control. Worse with the lamb – I reckon the Asian guys don’t know anything about lamb and I suspect they don’t even like it. When it comes to pork and especially belly pork I head straight to the Asian guys. But tonight it’s Red Meat Curry. I have tried lamb as a substitute for this dish and it works ok. But beef is better.

Setup: Usually I would put Dr John Naw’lins on the speakers up loud while I’m cooking but tonight it was PM on Radio National.

Four medium brown onions roughly chopped.
Melt them down in a big pan on top of stove – a bit of brown don’t hurt just don’t burn them. When they are melted down a fair bit throw in about four good cloves of chopped garlic and a whole lot of chopped ginger. Continue to melt down for a while.

Have ready on a plate the spices:
2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons of turmeric
1 teaspoon of chilli powder
12 curry leaves
1 teaspoon of ground black pepper

Throw all these spices in the large saucepan on medium high heat and stir to brown off onions and melt them and toast up the spices and mix them.

When ready shovel out onto a plate and wait.

Slop more oil in the saucepan. I use Rice Bran Oil . Until exactly 5 minutes ago I thought it was healthier than Peanut Oil – now I’m not so sure. Get the oil hot – drop in half the red meat – not too much or it will stew. We are seeking to brown it here. Brown it. Then tip that half out on plate and brown other half.

Meanwhile you will have been warming the casserole bowl in the oven at around 220 degrees.

Throw meat and onions and spices into casserole and place in warm oven.

Get a large tin of Coles brand diced Italian tomatoes and open it up. Pour it into the saucepan used to brown the meat and smoke the spices. Deglaze the bowl and heat tomatoes. Grab about half a beef stock packet – I usually have half ones frozen in the freezer – and plonk it in the mélange. It’s not strictly Gunga Din but I like to splash a bit of salt in at this point. Depending on your tendencies you might like to chuck in a dollop or two of tomato paste – I don’t.

Slop a small amount of water in. Then pour it into the casserole dish what has the meat in it. Then whack it in the oven somewhere above 220C for two hours. Give it a stir every now and again.

I hardly need to tell you that this is best cooked slow and then left overnight before eating. That will make it taste mature and well integrated. But if your ungrateful unwashed unfed are like mine hanging around the kitchen saying “When’s it ready” then, like me, you will roll your eyes heavenward and sigh and you’ll serve it up on the night it’s cooked too.

OK. It goes with basmati rice. Plonk a measure for each person in the rice cooker and 1.5 of water for each measure. Sometimes I put frozen peas or sultanas in the rice mix prior to cooking. Squeeze a lemon into the rice cooker.

Ok it’s ready. Rice on plates with meat curry alongside it – not slopped on top please, some Patak’s Lime Chilli Pickle on each plate, a big drop of ordinary mild chutney on each plate as well and a big dollop of fresh Greek yoghurt. Or you can plonk it all on the table in separate serving bowls and yell out “It’s ready”.

All that’s needed is a fork and mouth.

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