Slow-braised beef cheeks in red wine

Last Sunday’s culinary adventure was beef cheeks. We’ve had a freezer full of various bits of cow, thanks to my beef-rearing mother-in-law. I’ve curried chuck, sizzled steaks and braised beef neck (now there’s a cut you don’t hear about very often) – I appropriated a recipe for oxtail stew, left it to putter away in the slow-cooker all day and it was really delicious.

So, the beef cheeks. I Google for recipes, since my cook books are disappointingly lacking on this score, and find a great one from Maggie Beer which I adapt slightly owing to time constraints. Following a trip to the supermarket I get down to business. The recipe says to marinate the meat the day before but it’s too late for that. So I pat the four cheeks dry, season them with salt and pepper, and brown them in the big non-stick pan until they are nicely caramelised. Into the slow-cooker they go. Then I pour a cup of red wine into the pan which hisses and bubbles before it starts to simmer and reduce gradually to half the amount, a deep plum-coloured liquid. That too goes into the slow-cooker. I wipe out the pan with kitchen paper, heat some olive oil, and sauté a chopped onion and celery stick until they are translucent and a bit brown at the edges. I put those in the pan too along with two cups of beef stock, plus the herbs that would have been part of the marinade: thyme, star anise and bay leaves.

It cooks for four hours by which time the cheeks are still quite firm when prodded with a wooden spoon. I debate whether to chance it and eat them now, or get in take-away, let the beef continue cooking ’til bed-time and eat them the next night instead. I decide on the latter and pop up the road to get goat curry, tandoori chicken and garlic naan from our fabulous Indian place, Faheem. The beef cheeks cook for another hour or more and the prod test reveals that they are now beautifully soft and apt to fall apart – perfick! Next day I reheat them and their fabulously gelatinous sauce and serve with mashed potato and steamed cavelo nero which we bought from the wonderful Eveleigh Market in Redfern on Saturday. The meat does indeed fall apart at the mere touch of a fork and it’s tender and succulent. The sauce is rich and complex with the intense flavours of concentrated red wine. It’s fair to say I am very happy indeed!

Slow-braised beef cheeks in red wine

Slow-braised beef cheeks in red wine, chez Mr & Mrs T

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Everest Kitchen, Marrickville

That Marrickville is one of the best foodie suburbs in Sydney is a fact that was once again confirmed on Saturday night when we and our friends Matt and Amy ate at Everest Kitchen, a Nepalese restaurant they had recommended to us ages ago. I’m so glad we didn’t wait a moment longer to try it out, and also that we had aficionados to show us how it was done.

Matt and Amy are both vegan, so in order that we can all share the same food, Mr T and I opt to go vegan for the night too. As such we close our menus and leave the ordering to the experts. They choose two traditional Nepalese entrée sets plus a serving of steamed vegetable dumplings, then to follow, two traditional Nepalese dhindo sets, each with a different curry. Both our entrées and mains are made up of a little bit of various different things – a fabulous way to sample lots of dishes. I’ve eaten vegan food before and I’m well aware that it can be very tasty, but I am honestly blown away by the vibrancy and freshness of the flavours we experience during this meal.

Traditional Nepalese entree set

Traditional Nepalese entrée set, Everest Kitchen

Our entrée sets (one of which is pictured above) include, clockwise from top, a potato cake, vegetable dumplings, beaten rice, soy bean salad, potato salad, fried lentil dumplings and a spicy roasted tomato sauce. Everything is just so delicious. The soy bean salad reminds me in texture of both Sugar Puffs and wasabi peas and is flavoured with finely chopped onions and fresh herbs. The potato salad has all the great qualities of a well-made traditional potato salad with the added mild warmth of turmeric and mustard seeds. I love the dumplings (fortunately we have another plate of them) – I struggle to identify the flavours but they’re fresh and spicy and so good I’d swear they contained meat if they didn’t taste so… well, clean. The beaten rice is a bit of textural fun, like flattened out Rice Crispies (there seems to be a bit of a breakfast cereal theme going on here!). The fried lentil dumplings are wonderfully crisp and crunchy on the outside, and the divine spicy roasted tomato sauce is reminiscent of satay, which is odd considering there’s nary a peanut involved.

Traditional Nepalese dhindo set

Traditional Nepalese dhindo set, Everest Kitchen

The key dish in the above (slightly depleted – must remember to take photos straight away) traditional Nepalese dhindo set, our main, is a potato and bamboo shoot curry. I love the bouncy, slightly fibrous texture of bamboo shoots. Our other dhindo set contains a curry made with no less than nine different kinds of bean. Both sets include the same colourful array of accompaniments – stir fried mustard leaves, pickled radish, tomato salsa, more of the potato salad (in substitution for the dairy-based raita), dhal and, in the middle, the dhindo which is made from millet flour. This carbohydrate looks rather grey and unappetising but I copy Matt and discover it’s really quite good mashed out on my plate and topped with dhal and tomato salsa. The bright green mustard leaves are peppery with a slightly bitter quality, the pickled radish is crunchy and piquant, the tomato salsa is sweet and mildly spicy, the dhal is comforting – once again, the variety and subtlety of the flavours, the freshness of the ingredients, is what delights here.

At the end of the meal we are given feedback cards to fill in and I circle top marks for all aspects of the meal and service. The windows are filled with many more completed cards offering glowing reports. Given we are one of only three tables on a Saturday night, I only hope that word of mouth spreads and this place gets the support it so clearly deserves.

Everest Kitchen
314 Victoria Road, Marrickville
Visited 26 May 2012

Two ways with lentils

Last Tuesday Mr T decided he would like to cook something so I am ushered out of the kitchen to watch Masterchef next door. We know from experience that the control freak in me can’t resist the urge to offer ‘suggestions’ and ‘advice’ from the sidelines, so it’s really best not to spectate. All I know is it’s going to involve lentils and sausages and he’s got my Jamie’s Italy propped open on the book stand. It’s so unlike Mr T to cook from a recipe that I’m intrigued! I think it’s got something to do with the fact that we’ve had bags of lentils hanging around in the fridge (owing to our weevil curse) for well over a year and Mr T is sick of the sight of them…

A short while later it’s ready – we’ve each got a bowl of tender red lentils tossed in a little olive oil and red wine vinegar, studded with fresh chopped flat-leaf parsley. On top is piled fat, diagonal slices of really good quality sausage – one chorizo, one boerewurst (not strictly what the Italian recipe calls for but what of that). On the side is a beautiful hot, sweet-sour, cinnamon-scented tomato ‘salsa’ to spoon over the top. And for ‘contorni’ we’ve got vibrant green brocoli branches dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. It’s such a wonderfully robust combination of flavours and rustic textures, a perfect peasant feast for a cold night. And I fill my boots – rather too much!

Sausages and lentils with tomato salsa

Sausages and lentils with tomato salsa, chez Mr & Mrs T

Two days later we’ve got a container of left-over cooked lentils in the fridge. I consult the bible, our Stephanie Alexander tome, on what goes with lentils and combine them with roasted pumpkin and red onion wedges sprinkled with cumin seeds, chopped fresh tomatoes, baby spinach leaves, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. To make this a meal Mr T buys a whole roast chook from Oporto on the way home. And as a cheeky starter we have devils on horseback à la Mr T – prunes wrapped in bacon, grilled and served on a skewer!

Roast pumpkin and lentil salad

Roast pumpkin and lentil salad, chez Mr & Mrs T

Devils on horseback a la Mr T

Devils on horseback à la Mr T, chez Mr & Mrs T

French onion soup

On Sunday I made French onion soup, which I’ve been hankering after for a few weeks now, and I must say it was rather delicious. In the past I’ve used a Delia Smith recipe but this time I wanted to try out a fabulous book of Mr T’s called The Prawn Cocktail Years by Simon Hopkins and Lindsey Bareham. Leafing through this book, complete with evocative pictures, I float nostalgically through my childhood fed on spag bol and cauliflower cheese, when going out for dinner meant prawn cocktail, steak and chips, and black forest gateaux! Ahhh, them were the days. The main difference between the two recipes, apart from slight variances in quantities, is that Delia adds half a teaspoon of sugar to the onions to help them caramalise, something that the prawn cocktail duo regard as the action of ‘cowboys’. Well, Delia, that’s you told!

I very thinly slice 2kg of brown onions in front of the telly in the sitting room, because that’s where the heater is, and then start to gently cook them in my favourite Le Creuset casserole in 75g of butter. Once they’ve sweated for 15 minutes on a very low heat with the lid on, the instruction is to take the lid off, turn the heat up slightly and continue to cook them for 45 minutes, stirring regularly, until they are golden brown and sweetly caramelised. Perhaps ambitiously, I Skype my brother and two-year-old nephew while all this is going on, so have to excuse myself every five minutes to ‘go and stir my onions’. Fortunately they are very understanding, especially little Fraser who is already a keen cook with his plastic kitchen set and wooden groceries.

I’ve just started the roux to thicken the soup (Delia doesn’t do that in her recipe – maybe she thinks that’s just for cowboys!) when I get a call from Mr T who has a puncture in one of his bicycle tyres and needs rescuing from Pyrmont. Far be it from me to deny a husband in distress so I turn off all the burners and go… Half an hour later I’m back to my soup. Whisking two ladles-full of hot beef stock (I use shop-bought from a carton) into my roux (25g butter, one tablespoon flour) it quickly forms a lovely silky, thick consistency and I whisk it back into the remainder of the litre and a half of stock. 150ml of dry white wine goes into the onions and is left to reduce and evaporate, perfuming the kitchen with delicious smells. I get the urge to pour a glass for myself which surprises me after a couple too many the night before! The thickened hot stock then goes into the onions, is brought to the boil and simmers for 15 minutes. Checking the seasoning I add a few ground of black pepper but no salt, and omit the suggested three tablespoons of cognac in case it’s a bit too much for Mr T’s alcohol-averse palate.

Now, the recipe demands that the croûtes are made by baking or grilling 16 slices of day-old baguette drizzled in melted butter and sprinkled liberally with grated Gruyère cheese, then allowing them to cool before being paved atop the soup in its pot, covered in yet more cheese, and once again melted and blistered under the grill. I decide this is more work than is truly necessary, and I intend to freeze most of the soup (or so I think), so I lightly toast two slices of white sourdough, rub both surfaces with raw garlic, grate on Gruyère and pop them under the grill for a couple of minutes – voilà, croûtes pour deux! I ladle the soup into hot bowls, float the croûtes on top and we tuck in in front of the box. It’s so good, so hearty and rich and sweet, that we can’t resist another spoonful with another hastily assembled croûte on top. So much for filling up the freezer!

(Sadly, in my food-induced bliss I completely forget to take a photo.)

Update 11 June 2012

I have just eaten the last of the onion soup from the freezer and this time I remembered to take a photo before I tucked in!

French onion soup

French onion soup, chez Mr & Mrs T

The Commons, Darlinghurst

I go to meet my friend Monica here on an unseasonably warm evening considering it’s Autumn. I wish we could sit outside on the pretty front terrace but all tables are full, and we want bar food rather than dinner anyway, so I’m sent down a narrow staircase at the back of the building, past a dining room with lovely long pine tables and benches. Downstairs the tiny space reminds me exactly of an old English pub with its low ceiling, small tables and stools, carpet and beautiful walls hewn from sandstone blocks. When my companion arrives we joke that it would be perfect on a cold Winter’s night – it has reached 26 degrees today!

We order fried zucchini flowers with ricotta and lemon, patatas bravas and tumbleweed calamari with rocket. The zucchini flowers are big and generously filled with a light crisp batter. The patatas bravas are to die for – small, soft, roasted potatoes slathered in copious quantities of a sauce which I think is sour cream with loads of garlic, lemon and herbs.

Stuffed zuchini flower & patatas bravas

Stuffed zucchini flower & patatas bravas, The Commons

The calamari are not my favourite kind – plump, tender rings with a light crumb – these are more crumb than anything else, a bit like eating Twisties but better seasoned! Actually that’s not very charitable – for what they are they’re very good.

Tumbleweed calamari with rocket

Tumbleweed calamari with rocket, The Commons

We’re not quite sated so we order the polenta chips which look like long flattened-out fish fingers but on tasting are rather flavourless – nothing that a sprinkle of salt doesn’t improve.

I feel I’ve been a bit hard on this place – maybe it’s because the rather snooty barmaid annoyed me right up front by leaning across me to retrieve something without a word of apology, let alone an acknowledgement of my existence! I actually really want to go here again because I love the building and the philosophy that they talk of on their website, and there are plenty more things on the rather rustic menu that I’d like to try. They also have a lovely looking private dining room on the top floor for up to 16 people which would make a great venue for an intimate celebration. Something to bear in mind for significant birthdays coming up!

The Commons
32 Burton Street, Darlinghurst
Visited 10 May 2012

The Carrington, Surry Hills

Having been out for a three-course lunch at The Apprentice I need somewhere we can get something small for an early dinner in Surry Hills before going to a show at Belvoir St Theatre. Some internet research leads me to The Carrington which does $3 pintxos on a Tuesday! Pintxos, we discover, are the Basque equivalent of tapas, and The Carrington is a former seedy pub that’s been done up by the same guys who performed the trendy-treatment on The Norfolk in Redfern which serves tricked-up and rather tasty tacos. I arrive early and get a high table by one of the shuttered windows, which is just as well – not long after Mr T arrives the place is heaving. With bare brick walls and wooden floors, The Carrington still has the laid-back appeal of a pub but it’s been given a mini Spanish make-over with red and black lace lamp shades over the bar, cocktails with names like ‘gringo’s surprise’ and ‘el presidente’, and Spanish tiles in the cosy adjoining restaurant.

We go for the $15 plate of all five $3 special Tuesday night pintxos and a great deal of fun it proves to be, especially washed down with a Spanish beer, Estrella, which is on tap and served in stemmed, branded glasses. The pintxos arrive looking extremely festive on a wooden board and speared with long cocktail sticks. They sound equally festive: a pork belly slider with white cabbage slaw; a potato, chili and smoked cheddar tortilla; a chicken, pork and pine nut sausage role with Basque ketchup; a mini chorizo dog with chipotle mayo and red onion jam; and a deep-fried paella ball with fried calamari.

Pintxos

Pintxos, The Carrington

The slider has a decent thick hunk of pork in it and some extremely good, crispy crackling. The sausage roll is clearly of the lovingly handmade variety (as opposed to the ubiquitous frozen party-fare kind) and the accompanying ketchup tastes of sweet roasted capsicum and smoked paprika – we ask for a second bowl. The tortilla is, as you would imagine, the blandest of the five pintxos but it’s comforting with tender potato slices glued together with subtly smokey cheese. A very cute little fried baby octopus crowns the paella ball which inside has a sticky, black, seafood risotto-type concoction – a delicious Spanish twist on the aranchini ball – and sits in a puddle of paprika-coloured mayo. The mini spicy chorizo (too mini for our liking) is encased in soft white bun which oozes chipotle mayo and onion jam as you eat. Salty, spicy, tangy and creamy all in one go, we could happily eat several full-size versions of this. Our other favourites are the sausage roll and the pork belly slider so we order another of each of these three. What is it about pig products that makes them taste so good?!

The Carrington
565 Bourke Street, Surry Hills
Visited 8 May 2012

The Apprentice, Ultimo

On Tuesday this week, to celebrate my colleague Mirelle’s birthday, the ladies and I lunch at The Apprentice. A light-filled, white-tableclothed room on the seventh floor of the TAFE NSW Sydney Institute in Ultimo, this is a training restaurant staffed by the chefs and hospitality students studying there. This is not your usual dining experience: on the plus side, lunch is three courses plus coffee for an amazing $22 per head, house wine comes at $3.50 per glass, and the standard of the food is pretty good, if fairly simple given that on the website it describes itself as a five-star outfit. On the minus side, even though there are three choices of starter, main and dessert we don’t get to choose (it’s a bit like being at a wedding where dishes are placed roughly alternately as they come out of the kitchen), and our two wait-staff are so nervous (one senses this is because they’re being watched and evaluated constantly) that they fumble and panic and make a litany of mistakes. One girl starts clearing plates while some of us are still eating and then, on realising her error, puts the plates back in front of their owners saying, “I know it looks really bad but if I take the plates away before you’ve all finished I’ll get busted!”.

Anyway, to the food. I’m lucky in that I get all of the dishes I would have chosen. To start I have jamon and fig salad – half a sweet, grilled fig with little piles of salty jamon, crumbs of creamy feta, segments of firm baby beetroot and a lemon vinaigrette. It’s delicious and very pretty to look at.

Jamon and fig salad

Jamon and fig salad, The Apprentice

This is followed by teriyaki salmon with green bean and apple salad, served with rice. The salmon is slightly overcooked for my liking which is for it to be still translucent in the middle – not to everyone’s taste, I acknowledge. I like the sticky teriyaki glaze on the fish but the sauce on the plate could do with a bit more body to help it coat each forkfull. The rice is very plain but the accompaniment of crisp, Granny Smith apple is a nice, unexpected touch. Overall, however, there’s not enough going on in the flavour stakes here.

Teriyaki salmon with green bean and apple salad

Teriyaki salmon with green bean and apple salad, The Apprentice

The birthday girl is presented with oven baked rib eye beef fillet with potato puree, mushroom gratin, asparagus and jus. This dish is the winner of the day for me – the thick piece of beef is tender and flavourful and the gratin topping rich and tasty.

Oven baked rib eye beef filet

Oven baked rib eye beef filet with potato puree, mushroom gratin, asparagus and jus, The Apprentice

My dessert is apple tarte-tatin with butterscotch and vanilla ice cream. The pieces of apple are a bit too firm but the pastry is a flaky delight and the vanilla ice cream (I couldn’t really taste any butterscotch) is beautifully creamy and speckled with plenty of tiny black vanilla seeds.

Apple tarte-tatin with butterscotch and vanilla icecream

Apple tarte-tatin with butterscotch and vanilla ice cream, The Apprentice

I would definitely recommend this place for the amazing value it represents – and it’s nice to be assisting in the education of our future restauranteurs – but with the caveat of a warning about the slightly shambolic service.

The Apprentice
7/695 Harris Street, Ultimo
Visited 8 May 2012

Marrickville Pork Roll

A Vietnamese chicken roll (Banh Mi) from Marrickville Pork Roll is my weekend treat when there’s nothing appealing in the fridge for lunch. This place is a tiny hole in the wall, barely big enough for the two women behind the counter and one customer in front of the counter – there’s pretty much always a queue up the street. This photo was taken last weekend. There were flags lining Illawarra Road – the Australian flag and the flag of South Vietnam pre the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975.

Marrickville Pork Roll

Marrickville Pork Roll

So, onto the chicken roll! It’s a big white roll spread with paté and mayonnaise and stuffed with plenty of chicken, carrot matchsticks, cucumber batons, spring onions (or shallots as you Aussies call them), coriander and fresh chili, and drizzled with a delicious gravy-like sauce. I take it home (if I can resist it for long enough!), sit on my back step and devour it with a cold beer – something that I always have on hand in my fridge!

Vietnamese chicken roll

Vietnamese chicken roll, Marrickville Pork Roll

Marrickville Pork Roll
236a Illawarra Road, Marrickville
Last visited 5 May 2012

Bootleg, Potts Point

I have been wanting to try out this place for ages and the opportunity finally arises this week when I meet two girlfriends for drinks and a catch up. When I arrive, Kimberley is sitting at a high table right at the front which is open to the street, but we move inside past the long bar to a small table down the back. The feel of the place is relaxed with candlelight and jazz, almost romantic – not what I’d expected from one of the first, mostly idiosyncratic, small bars to have opened in Sydney when the licensing laws changed. Rani arrives soon after and we study the menu. Rather than go for separate mains we decide we feel like some nibbly things to share – we choose crostini with egg mayonnaise, anchovy, preserved lemon and chili; a mozzarella and tomato salad; a salumi plate and a cheese board. To drink we pick a lovely bottle of Eden Vally Riesling. It’s ideal fodder for a good old chin-wag – and the music is suitably pitched that talking and listening is a breeze, which (excuse me for sounding old!) is a rare pleasure.

The crostini are a bit less exciting than their individual ingredients would suggest. But the mozzarella salad is a delight, perfectly seasoned with beautiful, rustically torn-apart, fresh mozzarella, pepped up with basil, mint, flat-leaf parsley and thin slices of peppery radish.

Mozzarella tomato salad

Mozzarella tomato salad, Bootleg

The salumi (sopressa, Serrano jamon, pancetta, bresaola) and cheese (pecorino, taleggio, gorgonzola) are delicious in all their fabulous Italian flavours, with plenty of sourdough bread and crunchy little parmesan biscuits to go with them, and a little dish of divine olive oil with sweet, syrupy balsamic vinegar.

Salumi plate and bread

Salumi plate and bread, Bootleg

The service is attentive but unobtrusive. It’s rather quiet considering it’s a Wednesday night. I can only imagine it must be pumping at the weekend – but I like it better like this. I really look forward to returning here again soon.

Bootleg Bar + Italian Food
175 Victoria Street, Potts Point
Visited 2 May 2012