Braised beef cheeks in drinkable red wine


At one time in the past I was of the opinion that the wine I used for cooking would not be the wine I would consume myself. In fact, the wine I used for cooking would be bottom shelf, cheap as, nasty assed goon*.

My opinions on more than one thing have changed in the last 20 years.

My opinion on the type of wine I should be cooking with was certainly not passed over by the opinion audit.

Now I am of the opinion that the wine you would like to cook with is also a wine that you would like to drink in your face. Maybe not necessarily that bottle you’ve been saving for your 50 year wedding anniversary, and certainly not a bottle you might drink at a teenage wedding or possibly a college art exhibition opening, but more of a “had a couple of drinks already and now I’m gonna pull you out of the cupboard and drink you all up” type bottle.

So that is the wine I have used to braised these beef cheeks for you right here today.

I have had the pleasure of using the fire to cook my dinner, but you can certainly use a pot on the stove top for yours.

The start of something good

Get a bit of colour on those cheeky cheeks
Add some sautéed mushrooms
Get it on a wooden camp table and serve some drinkable red wine in a mug to go with

BRAISED BEEF CHEEKS IN DRINKABLE RED WINE

(Serves 4)

1 kg beef cheeks, each cut into 3 pieces (a nice butcher will do this for you. A mean butcher will spit in your eye and then tell you to piss off)
100 g pancetta, sliced
1 onion, chopped roughly
3 carrots, cut into 5 or 6 pieces each – keep it chunky, keep it real
8 large cloves garlic, left whole and charred slightly on the coals (or raw chopped garlic will do just fine)
1 long red chilli, sliced
1 bottle of red wine
1x 400g tin diced tomatoes
500 ml beef stock or water
500 g button mushrooms, cut in halves or quarters depending on size
Salt and pepper

Heat a splash of oil in a heavy based pot or cast-iron camp oven over a medium-high heat. Add pancetta, onion, carrots, garlic and chilli, and sauté until starting to brown a little.
Add beef cheeks and season with a little salt and pepper. Sauté beef cheeks for 10 or so minutes until they are browned and tasty bits are starting to grip a little on the bottom of the pot.
Pour in the wine, tomatoes and water, and stir to get all of the good bits off of the bottom of the pot and into the gravy.
Cover and simmer over low heat for 3 hours, stirring every half hour or so.
(While the beef cheek simmering is going on you can sauté your mushroom in a little oil and butter until they are browned. Set aside)
After 3 hours add the mushrooms to the pot and stir through.
Cover and simmer for one more hour.
Check that the beef cheeks are tender – they should be ready to be cut with a spoon by now. If not, simmer for another 15 minutes or until soft, adding a splash of water if the gravy starts to thicken up too much.
Serve with mashed potatoes, jacket potatoes or potato bake and green beans if you have some.
Eat it.

Damn well delicious

*Goon. Aust slang. Cheap arsed boxed wine. A wine one might drink in their teenage / university days.

Coal roasted fish bruschetta AKA camp bruschetta

fish bruschetta
Last week I was writing the roster at work, which is a pretty ordinary thing for someone in my position to be doing. It was going to be a pretty good one too – I had reined it back to a less-than-50-hour-week which is a more than acceptable working week for one who has chosen chef as their profession.

And then it turned into a really damn good roster really quickly.

I had completely erased my name from the graphy looking little timetable that was trying to tell me I would be attending work that next week. Bam. Gone.

“Yup. That was a heaps better idea,” my smart brains told me. “You should just piss off camping instead.”

“Brilliant,” I agreed, quickly realising that I was conducting one hell of a cracking monologue in front of the staff… again.

Not to worry. These guys have seen how much coffee I drink…. They’ve heard me talk of my carnie fetish… they knew what they were getting themselves in for when they signed up.

Before I knew it we were packing the car for the camping trip. We packed crocodile seeking missiles, a box jellyfish/ozone depletion full body protection suit, the really deadly snake deterrent, nuke ‘em from orbit tent mounted mosquito extermination technology and, of course, the drop bear trap. We never go camping with out a drop bear trap. The car was almost full but we still had just enough room for our prescription medication, a few amphetamines for who ever is on drop bear watch (they always attack at night or in the small hours of the morning) and enough rum to wash it all down.

That is what we did because that is how we go camping in Australia.

Once all of our nature defences were in place and we were high as a kite, we went fishing and caught ourselves a few plump flathead which we promptly cooked on the coals and camping-like-a-boss made them into some tasty assed fish bruschetta with herby salsa.

Get one of the kids to prep the fish. Try and disguise your shitty photo by making it black and white
Get one of the kids to prep the fish. Try and disguise your shitty photo by making it black and white

I could've eaten quite a few of these
I could’ve eaten quite a few of these

FISH BRUSCHETTA WITH HERBY SALSA

(serves 4 as a light meal)

2 whole fish (800g-1kg to give approx. 400g meat)
8 slices sour dough bread
1 small Lebanese cucumber, diced
2 tomatoes, diced
½ small white onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons salsa verde (it would probably be pretty easy for you to make some before you leave)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

• Put everything except the fish and bread into a bowl, mix to combine and allow to macerate while you cook the fish.
• My fish went straight onto the coals of the campfire for 6-7 minutes each side and then we peeled the skin back and flaked the flesh off the bone with a fork. It was some seriously tasty shit. A little bit charred and smoky and still so damn moist thanks to the skin and scales – this is some seriously sexy business.
• Maybe you don’t have a campfire so you can get a similar result by wrapping your fish in foil and roasting them for 10-12 minutes at 200C.
• Now is a good time to toast your bread. You can toast bread right?
• To assemble drizzle the toasts with olive oil and then divide flaked fish between the 8 pieces. Top with salsa and spoon over salsa juices. Season with a little salt and pepper if it needs some.
• I cannot say enough how damn good this was.

My son Obi the kangaroo whisperer
My son Obi the kangaroo whisperer

Really tasty campfire pork and other campsite stories

campfire roast pork
It should be known that it is not very often that we will set up our tent at an actual caravan park. Very seldom in fact. I would (will) go so far as to say unless it is the only option, we ain’t going to do it.

This was one such occasion when it was our only choice, kinda like being left with that one 56-years-young cougar when the nightclub lights come on…

Jennee did the righteous thing by going out early to set up camp, as I would be catering for a party in the hills, and it would most definitely have me well into the night.

I did finally make it to that campsite though. After battling darkness, tiredness, a bad sense of direction (something I can only now far-from-happily admit I possess) and attempted ambushing’s by several bridge trolls, I got there. Safe arrival in the middle of the night is always an occasion that requires a mild celebration at the very least, so I cranked the fire back up to a small sun and consumed a few beers.

In the spirit of all things holy I was having myself a good time.

Sometimes, when you venture into that mysterious Stepford Wives-esque world that is the inner circle of the caravan park (trailer park. Yeah, you’re getting the gist of what I’m saying now, right?) in the middle of the night, you awake to a totally different world.

The night dwellers, carnies and swamp rats had scurried back into the underground homes prior to being licked by the first rays of morning sun, but there was still “the others”.

“The others” resided almost solely in caravan parks. They were renowned for their hoarding of volumes upon volumes of 1980s Mills & Boon novels and collections of random little side-show-alley-prize fluffy toys (paraphernalia from their time on the big top circuit, no doubt). From the moment they would awake each day they waited eagerly to get their daily dose of “the Hoff” in his glory years as some bloke on that one show about the lifeguards… Our neighbor for our stay was nothing short of poster-woman for these people.

As soon as Jennee pulled up next to the semi-permanent dwelling in her semi-suburban mostly-soccer mum car the neighbor was up off of her rocking chair on her recycled pallet wooden verandah questioning the very notion that someone would be camping next to her van. “They said there would not be any one camping near here,” she said. “They said they would not let anyone camp near here.”

Jennee had no solution except to quickly erect our tent like the boobies “au natural” would erect a certain part of a young man’s anatomy.

I did not know it yet but I was definitely afraid of the lady next door.

In the same breath I spoke about my fear of the strange woman next to us and how she would possibly come into our tent this night and horribly dismember us with her neighbor’s garden spade, I realised that she was probably so desperate for her solitude as she was sheltering her half goat, half man son from a world that couldn’t love him, and he was truly the one I should fear for he has tasted human before and he was damn keen to taste it again…

What was I talking about? It didn’t really matter. It never really matters…

I did start this little anecdote with the purpose of telling you about a lovely piece of pork I was given by a lovely lady named Sally who farms a few old breed pigs and was curious to know if I would like to use those very pigs in the restaurant. Yes Sally. Yes I would like to use your pork. Very tasty shit indeed!

There, I’m done.

If you can be assed, it's pretty nice when you make some bread to go with your dinner
If you can be assed, it’s pretty nice when you make some bread to go with your dinner

Tasty, crunchy crackle up front, fields of green out back
Tasty, crunchy crackle up front, fields of green out back
Really tasty pork
Really tasty pork
Roasty vegetables with a bit of dukkah so they know we love them
Roasty vegetables with a bit of dukkah so they know we love them
Carve it up. Do it quickly
Carve it up. Do it quickly
Just eat it all up now
Just eat it all up now

CAMPFIRE PORK ROAST with VEGETABLES & ZA’ATAR (serves 4)

1.5kg rolled pork shoulder roast from Sally
1 onion, sliced roughly
3 medium potatoes, chopped kinda chunky like you would for a roast
1-2 carrots, chopped kinda chunky
2-3 zucchini, chopped kinda chunky too
5 cloves garlic, smashed with the flat edge of a knife
Salt & pepper
Za’atar
1 camp oven or witches cauldron

• Season the skin of the pork. When you think you have seasoned it enough you should probably season it a little more
• Place pork into camp oven resting in medium (170-180C) coals, rotating every 30 minutes for 2 hours
• Add vegetables, and a splash of cider if you have some in your hand, to the bottom of the camp oven and get it back into some coals. Put a few coals on the lid so the crackle starts to get a little sexy
• After 30-40 minutes it should all be smelling pretty fricking nice so maybe carve that piece of pork up, sprinkle some za’atar over the vegetables and eat it in your face
• A very nice piece of pork indeed

Have some billy tea
Have some billy tea

Campfire (or possibly home oven) Chicken with Broad Beans and Bacon

chicken with broad beans and bacon
“You may sleep like animals and smell like animals, but you shall eat like men”.

Well, I heard through a friend of mine that that is indeed what Jesus said and by jeepers I do believe I agree with that man!

I am more than happy to sleep on the floor with nothing but a rolled up old tee shirt that I had been wearing for work on the two days previous, and nary a blanket or mattress in sight, on the odd (or possibly way too oft) occasion that I’ve indulged in one too many tipples of the white man’s devil water and nodded off (passed out) on the floor while searching for my bed… which is coincidentally in the same place it has been for the last 5 years… I’m sure there should be some kind of ingrained memory thing there, but no.

I belive I told you to put coals on the top of the camp oven too...
I believe I told you to put coals on the top of the camp oven too…

That same minimal necessity sleeping theory is also applicable for camping. I will sleep on the ground (although that tune may be sung a little differently as I grow older), wear the same clothes and bath in nothing but the sweat dripping from my own pores for as many days as need be but just before I can no longer see modern civilization from the brink of Lord of the Flies syndrome I will cook up a damn fine meal that I shall devour like some kind of strange red bearded camp royalty and bam! I am human again.

Ready to bring you back from the brink of Lord of the Flies syndrome...
Ready to bring you back from the brink of Lord of the Flies syndrome…

It’s not hard to eat well while you’re camping, it really isn’t. What is hard is a brick. Bricks are very hard, but eating well while camping is not. Argue that point with me why don’t you…

Certainly no brick
Certainly no brick

Something as simple as camp oven chicken for example, can be lifted to dizzying new heights if you remember to pack a little ham stock that’s been in the freezer since last Christmas and way too many broad beans from the garden. It’s about the fore-thought – past Graz looking out for future Graz and all that. I’m certainly not implying that all of your camp meals should be like you’re staying at a five star resort, because then let’s face it – you’re going to be needing a bath robe and a little mint choccy on your pillow too and, although I am more than happy to be designated camp cook, you will not be receiving room service from me… lip service possibly, but room service definitely not. So you just get your own ass organized and pack a couple of ingredients for your tromp de monde camp dish then you are coming out on top… and in the orgy of camp cooking, on top is indeed a good place to be.

Cook it before I shoot you with my beer gun
Cook it before I shoot you with my beer gun

CAMPFIRE CHICKEN with BROAD BEANS and BACON (serves 4-6)

1x 1.6kg chicken of prime origin
3 rashers bacon
1 brown onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, chopped
2-3 cups broad beans podded from what looks like way too many broad beans for you and your family but trust me, it isn’t (if you can’t get them fresh, frozen are readily available and would do the job also)
2 cups ham stock
Salt and pepper

• Saute bacon, onion, carrot and garlic in a large camp oven (dutch oven) until just starting to colour
• Add your chicken and ham stock and season that sexy beast well
• Put the lid on your camp oven and keep it on med-low coals, with a layer of coals on the lid, for 40-50 minutes
• Sweep coals off the lid and check the chook… it should be pretty close. If not, put the lid back on, cover with coals and leave for another 10 minutes. Repeat the sweeping and checking…
• Once the chicken is done add the broad beans and simmer uncovered for another 10 minutes
• Serve the chicken with bread that Jennee baked in the camp oven earlier that afternoon (not showing off or anything) and tune in to the pretty sounds of the bush at sunset
• Aaaaaahhhhhhhhh

Listen to the beautifulness
Listen to the beautifulness
Oh, and then eat some bastardised smore type thing for dessert
Oh, and then eat some bastardised smore type thing for dessert

PS this could be done in a baking dish in the oven at 180C for the same times…

Black Rock Camping Part 3… the final instalment of how to eat like a king while camping

camp oven breakfast
Black Rock Camping 3

We endured but another night of wind and rain worthy of the adventures of Scott of the Antarctic himself. We should of maybe packed ourselves up, or possibly threw caution to that proverbial wind, but instead we decided throwing ourselves three sheets to the wind would be a better option and we drank ourselves numb to the pending eventuality that our campsite would be lifted from its tethers and transported back to Oz itself!

Our determination and the fact that we were all oblivious to the storm that continued around us paid off as we awoke to blue skies and the promise of a sugar-sweet day in paradise. I foraged native fruits and berries, tracked wild boar and gathered emu eggs for our breakfast feast. That is, I Viking raided the fuck out of everyone’s eskies and used the pillaged goods to create a communal breakfast. I let my brain be free as it instructed my hands through the motions needed to get this kick-ass breakfast on the table. I feel my brain worked very well with my hands on this occasion.

We ate a spiced vegetable and bean stew with baked eggs, sausages and bacon, and pots of freshly brewed coffee (we are not animals) and tea. *Fun camping fact #2 – if you want to eat like a king while camping get yourself a camp spice rack.

Eggs baked on top of a spiced vegetable and bean stew looks damn good eh?
Eggs baked on top of a spiced vegetable and bean stew looks damn good eh?

Serve that shit up, kid
Serve that shit up, kid

SPICED VEGETABLE & BEAN STEW WITH EGGS (for 8)

6 big handfuls of diced vegetables that you can steal from everybody’s eskies. We had onion, corn, eggplant, carrot, mushrooms and kale
1 tin of cannellini beans
1 tin of kidney beans
1 tablespoon each cumin seed, paprika and dried oregano
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ a teaspoon dried smoked chilli powder
Seasoning
2 tablespoons smoky barbecue sauce
1x 700g bottle of tomato passata
½ cup water
8 eggs
Sausages and bacon, to serve

• In some medium-high heat coals ☺, cook off all of the vegetables except kale with a splash of oil
• Once starting to colour and soften add spices and kale and cook out for another couple of minutes
• Add beans, barbecue sauce, tomato and water and simmer, covered for another 8-10ish minutes or until vegetables are cooked. Add another splash of water if it starts to thicken up too much as you need a wet sauce to poach/bake the eggs in
• Check and adjust seasoning if necessary
• Make a few (eight, actually) little dips in the stew and crack eggs straight into them. Don’t be too concerned if they don’t stay where you want them too, it’s all good in the end
• Cover camp oven and simmer, covered, for another five minutes or so (until the eggs are cooked but still a little soft in the middle is the desired result)
• Once cooked, serve with an array of camp fire meats, a pot coffee, tea, whiskey or what ever it is you drink in the morning and the company of some nice people

I am starting to think the reason I get invited on these trips is because of my camp cooking smarts, which is A OK by me. The challenge of cooking with only the (almost) bare basics, using the most primitive of cooking methods, just damn well appeals to me. Camp seasoning provided by the fire and the flora in this unattended outdoor greenhouse that is my kitchen stadium. Fire and then some more fire. It is all about the fire when I’m on the scene. You can take your trek through the bush, read your Mills and Boon novel or build a carnie survival hut in the bush, but you’ll find me tending the fire, getting the next meal together and possibly (definitely) sipping on a sneaky beer… well, as long as we’re done with breakfast.

The camp spice rack helped bring a little Jamaican influence to our chicken and chorizo. Pretty easy huh?
The camp spice rack helped bring a little Jamaican influence to our chicken and chorizo. Pretty easy huh?

That sucker in the coals next to Marky's meatballs
That sucker in the coals next to Marky’s meatballs
…and finished with a few green beans
…and finished with a few green beans

Camping is my shit.

We wake, eat, drink, relieve ourselves and sleep when we feel the need, as our bodies regress back to the bare necessities of what you need to do to stay alive. Camp life is not dictated by alarm clocks, bus schedules or appointments at the herpes clinic. Meal times are not relevant as you eat when you feel like you want to eat, not when your boss sanctions your union approved 45 minute lunch break. As my friend Daniel-San, a fellow strapping young red-bearded lad, would say, “that is camp time, folks”. And you know what? It really doesn’t matter if you are drinking a beer at 10:30am or asleep at 7pm, as long as you are out there, enjoying what our dear sweet mother nature has to offer you, what ever that may be.

But this camping trip is almost over and nigh is the time that we shall return to our urban homes so that I may clean myself up, for I am currently exuding more funk than James Brown’s butt crack.

It’s been real, folks. It’s been real.

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