Slow Cooking the Winter Chill Away…

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The first chill of winter never gets any easier. If summer is the firm tanned buttocks of the physically active young lady, then the first chill of winter is the pale sagging buttocks of the aged lady… polyester slacks included.

Yes, that is the first chill of winter – it’s a bitch of a surprise initially, but soon enough I will be used to it and accept it and love it like the mother would love her inbred child. Well, maybe not that much love, but soon I will acclimatize to the winter is the point I’m trying to make… I think.

As I sit here trying to warm myself from the alien experience that is the winter chill, on the couch, eating an ANZAC cookie, wrapped in a snuggle rug type thing I have stolen from one of my children, I contemplate things… I contemplate stuff… I contemplate that to an outsider I would look almost exactly the same as the bearded, street wise old hobo who hangs out at the local shops. Well shit Mr “outsider”, I am sorry for trying to keep my ass warm in this time that coldness descends upon us, and yes I am going to have another Anzac cookie. I am effing going to have another Anzac cookie. I am addicted to those things. If they were about when our troops went to war these cookies could have been gifted to the enemy and could have very possibly resolved any conflict before it had a chance to happen…

Also, as always, I contemplate what may constitute my next meal and how that meal is going to help to warm my body and nurture my soul and, well, just get some warmth into my life really. I don’t want a “warm hug”. No, in fact the next person I hear referring to a warming wintery dinner as a “warm hug” will quite possibly receive them self a warm flat palm straight to the face. No “warm hug”. Sorted? Right.

A slow braise, a ragout, a stew… what ever you may call it, it is truly one of the best things one can do for their person in times of such ominous chill.

It need not be a difficult process to transform some fridge stuff and a few things from the larder into a pot of awesome if you just follow a few simple ground rules. Not a recipe, just a formula to success.

So here is my secret formula, my family jewels, my third nipple… or just the things you need to make a decent braised pot of heart warming goodness;

A winter stew...
A winter stew…

Goes into some dishes and then steamed potatoes are pushed through the ricer to make a funny pattern that the kids like on top...
Leftovers go into some dishes and then steamed potatoes are pushed through the ricer to make a funny pattern that the kids like on top…

And then the whole nom nom nom thing happens
And then the whole nom nom nom thing happens

1. Something wet. No, no, no, your sheets are not going to do for this one little boy. We need moisture and we need viscosity (there is a whole other world I can head to with a lead-in line like that, but quite frankly even the Germans wouldn’t touch it, so I to will not be going there today…) as a saucy conduit for flavours to the journey from the plate to your face. Something like stock, booze, tomatoes or a combination can provide you with the sauciness you need
2. Some herb. The stuff you keep in the tobacco tin next to the scissors and the pack of cigarette papers on the top of the fridge will not do for this. If you are smart enough to have a few herbs in your garden then you will be winning right now. A few dried herbs in the cupboard will even find you a place close to the podium. Use grass and dirt if you have nothing else on hand
3. A secondary cut. This is not the knife wound the mass murderer inflicts when the first slash is ineffective, but instead it is the collective term for the cheaper cuts of meat that need a little extra love to achieve the state that is going to leave you laying back in a smoky, post-coital haze, much like the farmer in the pig stall. The cuts of meat less favoured by the consumer because of fuck knows why, because the smart money is on the secondary cut every time; tasty and cheap, much like the Thai lady-boy… except tastier… and not that cheap. But still plenty cheap. Chicken wings and even thighs, beef shin, chuck, cheek or brisket, pork shoulder or shank, lamb shoulder or ribs all fall into this category. Quite conveniently these are all of my favourite cuts. Lucky me
4. Slow cooking. Slow cooking. Slow cooking. Slow cooking is the secondary cuts besty. Without slow cooking the secondary cut is but dog scraps. These guys hang out and the magic happens, much like Torvill and Dean, Thelma and Louise or that guy and girl from Swedish 90’s pop-rock sensation, Roxette. Slow is good. Winter loves slow. A slow cooker will do this job just fine for you

So go now and slow cook some heart warming wintery goodness. Do it quickly.

And if you have leftovers fear not. For when you have leftovers you can put them in the freezer for a rainy day, or even better (or at least as good), put them in a pie. Whether your pie be encased in pastry – puff or short crust, or maybe a pot pie with a filo or potato crust just like the one I made today. Which reminds me, I set out today to pen a little piece about a pie I made with some leftover beef ragout (hence the pie pics) but as I often do, I got caught up in the moment and, after a brief flirtation with the point, I end jumping into bad and going ten rounds of the very best with a short story about the first chill of winter and how I’m going to sort that out so now that has become a story for another time.

I seem to be making it quite clear that I’ve been beating the chill with the whiskey so far… plenty of the finest brown paper bag covered Scotch whiskey.

That was some tasty braised beef shin
That was some tasty braised beef shin

Where did the good kebab shops go…

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Abrakebabra… and then the magic was gone.

Yes, this is a story of my disenchantment with the state of the local purveyors of the bread wrapped meaty treat; the kebab.

I remember a time when getting a kebab was a bit of theatre. A middle aged gentleman with a black moustache, button up shirt and sensible trousers would take your order and then he would brazenly slice the meat to fill your order from a big spinning stick that would draw you in like a moth to a toilet light with the radiant glowing heat. He would then add lettuce, tomato, onion, burgul and parsley laden tabouleh and garlicky yoghurt sauce. Then it would be wrapped with the skill and efficiency of a man who had just wrapped his seven millionth kebab and still loved every minute of providing you with this service. Carnies would dance, music would fill your ears and you would be sent on your way…

But this was the opposite of all that.

The name of this kebab joint alone (that shall remain anonymous as this is one of those “if you don’t have anything nice to say…” moments that my ma would always talk about) should have been a beacon, a red light, a sign saying “Achtung! Minen! Do not enter!” But no, the kids and I had decided we wanted a kebab so a kebab it was going to be.

Not much going on here but it was still an arvo at the beach
Not much going on here but it was still an arvo at the beach

The guy out the front on the foot path, sitting on a lone melamine chair just like the one that was essential decor for all local fish and chippies on the 80s, smoking cigarettes and generally just looking like he was in a bizarre in the middle east (except he was sitting in the middle of a sea of schoolies* in main street Byron Bay) could have triggered an alarm to reinforce secondary fortifications, but no. Maybe the Swedish backpacker counter girl who was having a lot of trouble understanding what we were asking for could have triggered a tertiary defence mechanism in my culinary thought process, but no, none of my inner smart brains were on my side today.

We ordered and I watched in horror as she went to a bain marie at the side and pulled the meat for our kebabs from it’s sweaty bath. If I still had hopes of eating a decent kebab this afternoon, they were well and truly dashed at that moment in time. My utopian kebab dreams came crashing down to reveal a stark reality that did no please me at all. I wanted my mummy. I wished that I had deployed some kind of self-defence and preservation measures but alas, my decisions were void of these today.

The chickeefamb was a very interesting meat… and if you're wondering why it's almost gone it was purely because I was damn starving
The chickeefamb was a very interesting meat… and if you’re wondering why it’s almost gone it was purely because I was damn starving

Closer inspection of the meat in my kebab revealed… well, I don’t know what it revealed. It was really fucking processed though, I can tell you that. It looked like some kind of meat a spaceman might eat if he were on a three year long mission. I had the chicken, beef and lamb combo but I couldn’t find any chicken looking substance in there. Maybe they process all three meats together thus creating the chickeefamb. Yeah, I think that’s what they did.

The truly sad thing is the kids will probably grow up thinking that is exactly what a kebab is. What sort of chance does the next generation have if this is the caliber of the westernized middle eastern street food they will be eating? Not a big one that’s for sure. Believe me when I tell you if someone is born in a brothel to a prostitute mother, with a prostitute grandma and an uncle and aunty who are bisexual prostitutes specializing in “Harry Potter themed threesomes”, chances are that child is going to think sucking cock for a crisp fiver is not a bad deal at all.

Work that one out.

Please tell me if you know where the good kebab shops are…

Meh (this is me being totally unimpressed).

*Schoolies. School leavers. A celebration for the end of secondary school years. A big party. Schoolies generally swarm to seaside party destinations just like Byron Bay

Black Rock Camping Day 2… banana cake and lamb in the camp oven (not at the same time though)

camp oven lamb
Black Rock Camping Day 2

It was a bit of a broken sleep last night as I was awoken numerous times by the pitter patter of a good hit of rain dropping to us from somewhere above. *Fun camping fact #1 – although the sound of rain dropping on a tin roof is nice, and somewhat therapeutic, the sound of rain dropping on the family tent is not.

I got up, mildly freaking out as to whether we had stowed our camera and other water resistant items. All good… we are getting a little wiser with age apparently.

Camp breakfast was one of many pans of bacon, eggs and sausages and pots of coffee and tea, all consumed to a background rendition of “let’s yell and scream heaps even though it’s only 6:30am” as recited by the Unruly Monkey-like Special Needs Children Choir. Beautiful. Welcome to the bush, fellow campers.

The kids were more than happy to clean the bowl… no washing up for us
The kids were more than happy to clean the bowl… no washing up for us

The cake in it's new home amongst the coals
The cake in it’s new home amongst the coals
That is some good looking shit right there
That is some good looking shit right there
And yes, it did taste as good as it looks
And yes, it did taste as good as it looks

Banana cake in the camp oven was next on the agenda, as we had never attempted cooking a cake in the coals before and let’s face it, if you need to subdue a group of unruly monkies what better way to do it than with bananas or a product that is a derivative of said bananas. We were prepared for this uprising of small monkey-like children and feeding time at the zoo went down a treat! This cake was kick-ass.

Chalk one point up to the clearly smarter adults. That’s one-nil suckers!

The unruly crew
The unruly crew

The men folk drank away the afternoon while the ladies made the tents look pretty and started to prepare our next meal… well, maybe it didn’t go down exactly like that… or even remotely like that, but I did get my ass into the kitchen (camp table near the fire) because I give not a fuck about the location, I just know that being in the kitchen is my time to shine. The cooking begun, we did manage to encourage a sneaky beer or two past our bearded lips just for the sake of it. We may have been glanced that “what the fuck are you doing” glare from a wifey or two but there was five of us men folk so that really didn’t mean a thing to us right now – power in numbers, strength of the brotherhood, dib dib dib and all that shit. We would face our respective lectures on our drive home I was sure but for now, another beer please my good man.

And then the wind and rain came suddenly and mercilessly as if I had just deemed their prize winning turnip nothing but a fraudulent, fiberglass butt-plug. They worked in unison swiftly to dampen our spirits and our spare underwear, but we battened down the hatches in a fashion worthy of a “sea farers hatch battening badge”, and then the rain left us and I finished cooking my camp oven roast lamb. But it wasn’t just camp oven roast lamb; it was camp oven roast lamb, adorned with camp mint sauce and root vegetables, worthy of a “damn tasty assed camp lamb roast award”. But I’m sure you don’t really give a shit about my crappy awards now, do you?

A few herbs make all the difference
A few herbs make all the difference

Oh dear good lord
Oh dear good lord
Ready to go
Ready to go
The mint sauce really lifted this meal way out of the realm of sausages, white bread and tomato sauce
The mint sauce really lifted this meal way out of the realm of sausages, white bread and tomato sauce

LAMB SHOULDER IN THE CAMP OVEN (for 4)

1 small lamb shoulder (about 1.5kg), bone in for the flavour and to give the kids something to gnaw on
2 sprigs rosemary
2 bay leaf
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Salt and pepper
1 bulb garlic, sliced through the middle horizontally
A couple of handfuls of root vegetables, all cut similar size
Mint sauce, to serve

• Rub the lamb down with the herbs, spices and seasoning
• Put it in the camp oven with ½ cup of water and cover with lid
• Move a few coals out of the fire and nestle the camp oven into these, shovel a few more coals on top. Leave it for 2 hours, occasionally turning camp oven and replacing coals
• While the lamb is getting sexy, make some mint sauce just so everyone knows how much of a bawsss you are
• After 2 hours add vegetables and garlic to the bottom of the camp oven and return to the coals for another hour or until everything is tender and delicious
• Carve it up and eat it with mint sauce, washed down with the finest booze your esky has to offer

CAMP OVEN BANANA CAKE (with dubious measurements)

4 eggs
250g unsalted butter, softened by the morning sun
4 cups self raising flour
4 super ripe bananas, chopped or mashed
1 cup sugar
Milk to make it into a thick cake batter consistency – probably about 1-2 cups

• Get the kids to mix this one up so as to keep them occupied for a few minutes
• Cream sugar and butter
• Add eggs
• Add bananas
• Add flour
• Add milk
• Bake on low coals in a lined camp oven for 45 or so minutes or until cooked. I’m sure a cake tin and domestic oven will do the job just fine, too

K.

I’ll be back tomorrow with some more camp goodness.

*If you like the idea of camp oven cooking and you want to know more, there are some fine folks who have created a facey page that is all about the answers you seek. You can find it here

Lamb & Preserved Lemon Filo Cigars…for your next Local Gerbil Appreciation Club AGM

SAMSUNG CSCAs I stated in my last post, spring is here. And if, per chance, you missed that last post, maybe a kindly passing stranger informed you too. The new season brings warmer weather, pretty flowers, songful birds, pink unicorns, waterfalls made of lemonade… where was I? Oh yes, and clearly it brings a few acid flashbacks too. But it also brings the first of the most crackerjack of spring lamb… strangely enough, born in winter. Whatever, it is still damn tasty shit! This is the little sheepy that the infamous jolly swagman had stashed in his tucker-bag, and eventually gave up his life for rather than share his Sunday lamb roast with the troopers; 1, 2 and 3. If you have no idea what I am talking about that is fine by me. I’m not exactly welcoming you to a new experience there, am I?

Back to the filo cigars.

Just what you need for your next little swingers soiree or local Gerbil Appreciation Club AGM. Get these suckers on the table with a few little green and red cocktail onions and maybe some French onion dip and jatz crackers, and you will need more space on your computer for all of the complimentary emails you’re going to receive.

This is a great way to use leftovers, and you all know I am a huge fan (not literally a rather large cooling device, I’d say an advocate in this case) of using up leftovers. But, if you need to cook some lamb for these I would suggest slow roasting a small shoulder, rubbed with the cumin and covered, for 4 hours at 170C or until it falls off the bone.

I have found that a lot of store bought filo pastry is still plenty flimsy and will rip and tear like the Christian who has been thrown to the lions. Do not despair though; I am not going to tell you to start making your own filo pastry. I cannot discern whether filo is of Greek or Turkish origin, but am certainly not Greek enough, and definitely not enough of a turkey to be making this from scratch. But this recipe is pretty forgiving; much like Jesus, and you can patch it up as go. Worst case scenario, you can use all of the scraps to top an awesome filo pie type thing.

Cook some crackerjack spring lamb shoulder
Cook some crackerjack spring lamb shoulder

Chop that lamb up and mix it with some rice and other delicious things
Chop that lamb up and mix it with some rice and other delicious things
Because this is how we roll
Because this is how we roll
Put on a lined tray before you bake them
Put on a lined tray before you bake them
Get some mint yoghurt on that shit and see if your face isn't happy to receive them
Get some mint yoghurt on that shit and see if your face isn’t happy to receive them

LAMB & PRESERVED LEMON FILO CIGARS (should yield about 30 cigars)

3-4 cups cooked lamb shoulder, chopped pretty fine
3 cups cooked brown rice
1 brown onion, sliced thinly
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon ground cumin
2 quarters of preserved lemon, flesh removed and finely diced
A handful each of chopped parsley and mint
1 pack (15 or so sheets) filo pastry, defrosted if frozen
Seasoning
Melted butter to brush
Sumac to dust
Mint yoghurt and good company, to serve (don’t ask your good company to serve you or they will probably leave, just let them enjoy the lamby cigars with you)

• Sauté the onion in a little oil until soft. Add garlic and cumin and cook out for another minute or so
• Combine lamb, rice, onion mix, preserved lemon, herbs and a little seasoning and mix well. Check seasoning and adjust if necessary
• Cut a filo sheet in half so you have two squares. Place an amount of lamb mix roughly the size of your little finger (if you don’t have weird hobbit-like digits) in the middle of the sheet parallel with the end closest to you
• Brush a little melted butter on the last 2cm of the filo sheet and then roll them up like you would roll a spring roll, or a cigarette or whatever it is you kids are rolling these days, folding the sides in half way through. If they tear a little at the start don’t worry too much as they will have their make-up and best looking keen-to-get-some-action boots on, and pull their sex appeal together by the end of the process. Put the seam on the bottom to keep them looking sexy
• Brush with melted butter and dust with a little sumac
• Bake at 180C for 20-30 minutes until golden
• Serve with mint yoghurt, a heap of friends, booze and good times

I made a little too much of the lamb and rice mix so a “using left-overs of left-overs recipe will follow.

Have a nice day.

The Silence of the Boys Eating the Lambs… Well, the lamb’s belly anyhow

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I ventured into the shop of my local purveyor of quality meats a while back to procure my good person a quantity bacon for the impending bacon week celebrations, when I noticed the butcher was taking the bellies off some lambs.

“Nice lamb Graeme”, he said to me.

“Looks very nice Scotty”, I replied. “How much for one of those bellies?”

“You can have one for three bucks”, he said.

“Well chuck one in the bag then my good man”, was the only response I deemed appropriate.

“Do you want a big one?” he asked.

“Sure”, I said. “Silly not to.”

We have pretty crazy conversations, that butcher and I.

So the end result, if it isn’t clear to you by now, is that I went home with a bounty of bacon and a lamb’s belly. Tonight the time has come to cook said lambs belly so… well, I guess that is what I shall be doing tonight.

A lamb’s belly is a thrifty assed piece of meat… although it doesn’t really have a lot of meat to it. It shall be known as a flap of flavour and I shall roll it’s sapid shroud over a stuffing of cous cous and cook it with cannellini beans and vegetables. It shall also be know as just plain awesome, I am sure. Anyhow, this cook-up will quite literally leave the “ten dollar dinner” consumerist propaganda mongers at Coles for dead. Those kids aint got nudda on me!

That lamb belly flap
That lamb belly flap
Stuff it and roll it
Stuff it and roll it
Yep. OK
Yep. OK
You know what this means… get in my belly!
You know what this means… get in my belly!

 

ROLLED LAMBS BELLY TO FEED A FAMILY FOR UNDER TEN BUCKS

1 lamb belly flap. This one weighed maybe 600g once the bones were out
½ cup cous cous
½ brown onion, diced and sautéed for a minute to soften
Seasoning
1 handful parsley, mint and thyme, chopped
PLUS
1 brown onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 stick of celery, diced
1 capsicum, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 bay leaves
3 cups cooked cannellini beans
Chilli mint sauce to serve (recipe follows)
• Mix the cous cous, sautéed onion and herbs together. Season
• Spread mix over belly (the lamb’s, not yours), roll and tie that sucker up like it was a sex slave on Friday night
• Whack it in the oven at 180C for 1.5 hours
• Put the vegetables and bay leaves in after the 45 minute mark and the cannellini beans can go in with ten minutes to go
• Slice, season and eat

CHILLI MINT SAUCE

½ cup apple cider vinegar
¼ cup castor sugar
1 large (think Hagred from Harry Potter) handful picked mint
1 long green chilli, chopped finely
A pinch of salt
• Warm the vinegar, sugar and chilli together to dissolve the sugar and soften the chilli a little. Set aside to cool
• Once cool add mint leaves and blitz with a stick wizz or in a blender. If you don’t have a stick wizz or blender chop the mint really finely before adding
• Season and serve

We silently ate the shit out of this… the kids had seconds… my back pocket still had enough money in it to purchase a wee little tipple… we all smiled. Winning.

Lamb shanks… and the start of winter

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It is officially winter.

Well, if you are one of the approximately 740 million people living in the southern hemisphere it is officially winter.

The nights have got cold. Cold like Tony Abbott’s bed (and if that isn’t cold by now it damn well should be), but the days… the days are still kissing our cheeks with uncustomary rays of glorious sunshine. What a sentence. Back to the nights… those cold, cold nights. It’s nights like these that are just begging me to get a pot out and braise some oh-so-tasty lamb shanks to warm the very depths of my person. “Please cook some lamb shanks”, said the cold. “Just like nana would make. Except, chuck a little extra shit in there, cos I know you and you gotta chuck a little extra shit in there”.

Tonight I shall listen to the cold speaking to me, possibly take another tab of acid or two just so it can hear me when I talk back, and I shall be cooking myself some lamb shanks… I will even make enough for my family to have some, too.

Cook the lamb shanks
Cook the lamb shanks
Eat the lamb shanks
Eat the lamb shanks

LAMB SHANKS WITH TOMATO AND OTHER GOODIES (for 4)
4 lamb shanks (the shanks off the back legs are a little bigger so they have my vote)
1 medium brown onion, sliced (does not need to be fancy… this is nana cooking at it’s finest)
1 carrot, chopped (peeled? Don’t even do that)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 anchovies
¼ preserved lemon, skin only, sliced finely
1 sprig rosemary
a few sprigs of thyme
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
Caper salsa (well, I was going to make caper salsa but the bottle told me I should forget about that and have another drink… it would be a worthy accompaniment if you can be assed and the recipe is here) and whatever vegetables to serve
• Brown the lamb shanks in a casserole dish
• Add everything except the tomato and herbs, cook out for a few minutes or until the onions soften
• Everything else goes in, cover and whack it in a pre-heated oven at 180C for 2 hours
• Check to see if the lamb is falling off the bone. It isn’t? Well chuck it back in the oven for another 20 minutes or so
• Once ready serve the lamb on a worthy receptacle as a base for it’s journey to your mouth hole
• Put some vegetables on the side and spoon the tomato-y goodness over the top
• Bust open the wine, sick your ass down and be sure to thank me later