Mini Deep Dish Pizzas

Muffin Tin Deep Dish Pizzas
When I first purchased my muffin tins I naively thought that I would use them to, well make muffins but as it turns out I’ve used them for everything but. I’ve whipped up mini quiches using won ton wrappers and cinnamon rolls using puff pastry and I’ve even used them for roasted potato stacks. So just when I thought there surely couldn’t be any more inventive uses for this humble tin I stumbled across these mini deep dish pizzas, made in, you guessed it – a muffin tin! These would be great for a drinks party or as a substantial canapé for when you’re going to head straight from drinks to the main course. They’re totally delicious and can obviously be made with a whole array of different fillings, one of our favourites being this pepperoni one. If you can purchase ready made pizza dough these are super easy to throw together but they’re so good it would be worthwhile making your own dough.

Ingredients – Makes 12

200g fresh pizza dough – store bought or home made
1 cup pizza sauce, I like to make my own but you can use a good quality ready made one
12-14 baby boccancini cut into thin slices
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Handful of black pitted olives, sliced
100g pepperoni sliced thinly and if large cut into quarters

Method

Pre-heat oven to 220C. Oil the cavities of the muffin tin with some olive oil. Roll out the pizza dough until it’s quite thin then using the bottom of a can or a cookie cutter cut out 12 circles. Take one circle and using your hands stretch the dough out as much as you can without getting any holes. Place it into the cavity of the muffin tin and spread it out so as it covers the base and at least a third of the sides. Repeat with remaining dough.


 Mini Deep Dish Pizzas

To assemble the pizzas place a few slices of boccancini on the dough (putting the cheese down first will prevent the dough getting soggy). Add 1-2 tablespoons of pizza sauce then top the sauce with a few slices of olives and pepperoni. Sprinkle some grated parmesan over the top and bake for about 20 minutes or until they are golden and the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Mini Deep Dish Pizzas

Italian Style Roast Chicken & Potatoes or Posh Chicken & Chips

          Italian Style Roast Chicken & Potatoes Italian Style Roast Chicken & Potatoes

It never ceases to amaze me how many different methods there are for roasting a simple chook. Fast, slow, stuffed, marinated – the list goes on and on, and just to add to that list here is my new favourite. Italians have a way of roasting a chicken which is pretty simple and basic but what sets it apart is the way the potatoes are roasted in the same pan, soaking up all the chicken juices and fat and becoming not only wonderfully crisp but really flavourful. The chicken is stuffed with a lemon and some sprigs of rosemary and anointed with a good slathering of olive oil. It’s left to roast on its own for a while before the potatoes are introduced. They get a little more oil and a good stir around in all the lovely juices in the pan. It’s then back into the oven to finish roasting by which time the potatoes will be lovely and golden as will the bird. Simple but oh so good or as they say in Italy, bellissimo!

Ingredients – Serves 4

1 whole chicken, about 1.8kg, preferably organic or free range
1 lemon cut in half
6 sprigs rosemary – 3 kept whole and the leaves from the remainder roughly chopped
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
6 – 8 good-sized roasting potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks – I used desiree
6 cloves garlic, peeled and halved

Method

Pat the chicken dry and bring to room temperature. Pre-heat oven to 200C (fan forced). Wash the peeled potatoes well and leave to soak in cold water – this will drain the excess starch from the potatoes making them extra crispy when they’re roasted. Stuff the chicken with the lemon halves and the three whole rosemary sprigs. Drizzle some olive oil onto the chicken and massage it all over the skin. Season generously with salt and pepper. Place the chicken into a roasting tray that is large enough to accommodate both the chicken and the potatoes, which will be added later on. Place in the oven and roast for 30 minutes.

Italian Style Roast Chicken & PotatoesItalian Style Roast Chicken & Potatoes Italian Style Roast Chicken & Potatoes

Just before the 30 minutes is over, drain the potatoes and dry them throughly with kitchen paper. At the 30 minute mark remove the roasting tray from the oven and take out the chicken, tilting the chicken slightly so the juices in the cavity drip back into the  pan. Add the potatoes to the roasting tray along with the remaining chopped rosemary and garlic. Season the potatoes with salt and add a small drizzle of olive oil. Toss the potatoes in the pan ensuring they are well coated with the pan juices and oil. Shove the potatoes to the sides of the tray and return the chicken to the centre. Place the roasting tray back in the oven and cook for a further 30 – 40 minutes or until the chicken is golden and cooked through. Halfway through the cooking time give the potatoes a little toss around. When the chicken is done remove it from the pan and set it aside to rest, again tipping the juices in the cavity back into the pan. Give the potatoes another good toss and spread them out in the tray. Return to the oven and continue to roast while the chicken rests. I found that another 15 minutes was enough for the potatoes to be lovely and crisp but you can cook them for longer as the chicken can safely rest for up to 30 minutes.

Carve the chicken and serve with the potatoes and some steamed greens or salad.

Italian Style Roast Chicken & Potatoes

Authentic Tiramisu

Best Ever Authentic Tiramisu

Tiramisu is a classic Italian dessert comprising of coffee soaked savoiardi (lady finger) biscuits that are layered with a whisked filling of mascarpone cheese, eggs and sugar. It’s totally delicious and addictive and I don’t think there was a date night in the 80’s when this wasn’t ordered for dessert! Don’t be fooled by all the eggs and mascarpone cheese, made correctly this dessert is actually quite light and not overly sweet. I use the word authentic in the title because there are quite a few different methods for making this dessert but the original and classic method doesn’t incorporate any cream, it uses whisked egg whites instead, making the filling much lighter. The other major difference in a classic tiramisu is that the egg yolk and sugar mixture is carefully cooked over simmering water to create a zabaglione (or a sabayon) before the mascarpone cheese is incorporated. The quicker version eliminates this step and I think the final dish suffers for it. So whilst this method does take a little longer to prepare it’s well worth the effort. Tiramisu is great for entertaining as it needs to be made a day in advance for all the layers and flavours to set and whilst this is a dessert normally for the grown ups, as it’s laced with coffee and Marsala wine, I’ve often made it for the family using decaffeinated coffee and no alcohol.

Ingredients – Serves 8-10

500 grams mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
Approximately 40 Savoiardi biscuits (lady fingers), imported Italian ones are best
5 eggs – separated
⅓ cup of Marsala wine – optional, see above
10 tablespoon caster sugar
1 – 1½ cups strong espresso – not instant coffee. If you haven’t got an espresso maker buy a couple of take away long blacks from your favourite coffee shop
Finely grated dark chocolate, optional
Cocoa powder for dusting

Method

Place the egg yolks with 5 tablespoons of the sugar into a heatproof bowl and whisk well to combine. Add the Marsala wine and beat again. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water (don’t let the bottom of the bowl hit the water). Constantly whisk the mixture until it doubles in size and the colour lightens. You want to whisk in as much air as possible, the air combined with the heat will create a thick emulsion. You need to be careful that the heat isn’t too fierce or it will scramble the eggs. Remove from the heat and beat for a couple of more minutes to cool the mixture down.

Next beat your egg whites with an electric hand mixer or stand mixer until soft peaks form. Add the remaining 5 tablespoons of sugar and beat until fully incorporated and the eggs whites are stiff and glossy. Place the mascarpone into a large bowl and break it up into smaller pieces.  Add a spoon of the zabaglione to the mascarpone and stir it in, this will help to thin the mascarpone out. Fold in the rest of the zabaglione and stir until almost fully combined. Add a scoop of whipped egg white to the mascarpone and beat it in until it’s combined – again this will lighten the mixture and will make it easier to incorporate the rest of the egg whites. Work in the rest of the egg whites, gently folding them in without deflating them, until they are fully combined with the mascarpone mixture.

  Classic Tiramisu Mixture

To assemble the dish, spread about a quarter of the mascarpone mixture on the bottom of a large dish. I like to use a rectangular glass dish. Sprinkle a little grated chocolate over the mascarpone. Place the cold coffee into a shallow bowl and quickly dip a savoiardi biscuit into the coffee for only about a second on each side. Don’t dip them too long, as they go from slightly soft to mushy very quickly. Place the biscuit onto the mascarpone layer in the dish and continue dipping the biscuits until you have a fully covered the dish.

  

Spread another layer of mascarpone and then some more grated chocolate, and keep layering biscuits and cream mixture, finishing off with a layer of mascarpone. Using a small fine sieve coat the top with a nice even layer of cocoa powder. Cover with cling film and refrigerate, preferably overnight but for at least 6 hours. Remove from the fridge about 30 minutes before serving.

Best Ever Classic Tiramisu

Cooking with Le Creuset Series – Chicken with Tarragon & Sherry Vinegar

Patricia Wells Chicken with Tarragon & Sherry Vinegar

For the second post in the Cooking with Le Creuset Series I’ve decided to road test a lidded casserole from their new stainless steel collection. Now when you think Le Creuset and casserole the first thing that springs to mind is their enamel cast iron pans which are famous the world over. Most people are familiar with them and if you’re lucky enough to own one you’ll know they are the sort of pans that last a life time and more – I have friends who have inherited their grandmother’s Le Creuset cast iron pans! I’ve had my large round Le Creuset casserole for almost 20 years and it’s still as wonderful as the day I took it out of the box. So whilst there’s certainly a spot in every good kitchen for a nice heavy cast iron pan or three, there’s also a need for good quality stainless steel pots and pans and it’s these pans that form the back bone of most kitchens. So I was interested to see how Le Creuset’s stainless steel range would perform and I thought it would be good to choose a recipe I would normally use my cast iron pan for and see how it fared in stainless steel.

Le Creuset 30cm Shallow Stainless Steel Casserole

The Le Creuset stainless steel range is made from 3 ply stainless steel with an aluminium core that makes for excellent heat distribution. The aluminium core is actually sandwiched between all the layers from the base to the rim, so no nasty hot spots. The base is also nice and thick so you won’t be scorching food easily. They work on all cook top surfaces and come in a multitude of shapes and sizes. They can also be used both on the stove top and in the oven which is very handy. The stainless steel range is dishwasher safe and my pan came out of the dishwasher nice and sparkly. The 30cm shallow casserole I used is a particularly handy size for all manner of braises and stews and it comes with a lid which makes it perfect for slow cooking in the oven. I pan fried the chicken pieces in the pan before deglazing. The chicken browned beautifully and left a nice caramelisation on the bottom of the pan which translates to amazing flavour in the finished sauce, just one of the reasons why these sort of braises always turn out better in pans that are not non-stick. I couldn’t have been happier with the results!

Searing Chicken in Le Creuset Pan

This recipe for chicken with tarragon and sherry vinegar is a classic French casserole and something you’ll find on many bistro menus. This particular version comes courtesy of Patricia Wells and her wonderful cookbook At Home in Provence. This is the sort of fuss free French cooking that I love – refined enough for the fanciest dinner but so comforting and easy that it’s also perfect for a casual family meal. The chicken can be served with rice, potatoes or just some crusty bread with a green salad being all that’s needed to round off the meal.

Ingredients – Serves 4  Adapted from Patricia Wells at Home in Provence

2 medium onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 free range or organic chicken cut into 8 serving pieces or you can use any mixture of chicken pieces you like, I used thighs, wings and drumsticks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 shallots, peeled and sliced into thin rounds
1 head garlic, peeled and cloves left whole
Bouquet garni: a couple of bay leaves, couple of sprigs of fresh tarragon, rosemary, parsley all tied up with a piece of twine
6 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
2 cups best quality chicken stock
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
4 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, larger leaves roughly chopped
½ cup cream

Equipment Used
Le Creuset 30cm stainless steel casserole with lid

Method

Generously season chicken with salt and pepper. In a large shallow sided pan, combine oil and butter over high heat. When hot, and working in batches, add the chicken skin side down and cook until golden brown on one side. This will take about 5-7 minutes at least and the best way to achieve great colour is to leave the chicken alone and not move it around at all. Once the skin side is golden turn the chicken pieces over and brown a further five minutes on the other side. Keep the heat regulated so the skin doesn’t scorch. When all the chicken is browned, remove to platter.

    

Pour off and discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat from the pan. Add the onions, shallots, garlic and bouquet garni and season lightly with salt. Sweat by cooking over low heat without colouring for about five minutes. Add 3 tablespoons of sherry vinegar to the pan and stir to combine. Return the chicken to the pan and cook covered very gently over low heat, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t catch, until the chicken is cooked through, about 35  minutes. Remove and discard the bouquet garni and transfer the chicken to a platter.

  Patricia Wells Chicken with Tarragon & Sherry Vinegar

Over moderate heat slowly add the remaining 3 tablespoons of vinegar, scraping up any bits that are stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, mustard, and half the tarragon and stir to blend. Increase heat to high and bring to boil, cook until sauce is thick and glossy, about 7 minutes. Turn the heat to low and add the cream, stir to blend, the resulting sauce should be thick, creamy, and fragrant. Taste for seasoning. Return the chicken to the pan and spoon some of the sauce over all the pieces. Bring to a simmer and cook very gently until the chicken is heated through. Sprinkle with the remaining tarragon and serve immediately.

Patricia Wells Chicken with Tarragon & Sherry Vinegar

Szechuan Green Beans with Spicy Mince

A Great Asian Side Dish - Szechuan Green Beans with Spicy Mince
This is a great side dish to pair with an Asian meal – I recently served it alongside Chinese Red Cooked Chicken . The fact that it includes protein in the way of minced meat means it’s quite a substantial side dish and can take care of both the vegetable element of the meal as well as  doubleing up as another main, which is handy if you’re feeding a hungry crowd. Traditionally the mince meat used is pork, which I love, but my family don’t so I often substitute minced lamb or beef which also work well. It’s also traditional to keep the meat to a minimum but I tend to veer away from that too and add much more as it’s so darn delicious. You can really make this as spicy or as mild as you like. I personally like it to have quite a kick but when I make it for the family I drop the heat level right down with no ill effect. The main key to this dish is to have your wok or pan screaming hot. You want the beans to shrivel and get some dark spots on them and the mince too should be well caramelised. As with most stir fries make sure you have all your ingredients prepped and ready to go before you start cooking.

 Ingredients – Serves 4-6 as part of a shared meal

2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine – you can substitute with dry sherry
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon corn flour
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
1 heaped tablespoon chilli bean paste – available from Asian grocers or substitute with any other Asian style chilli sauce. You can add less or leave it out if you prefer
¼ teaspoon dry mustard
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
500g green beans, ends trimmed, cut into 2 inch pieces
350g minced pork, you can use lamb or beef if you prefer
3 cloves of garlic, finely minced or pressed through a garlic press
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1½ teaspoons toasted sesame oil

Method

In a small bowl, stir together soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, corn flour, white pepper, chilli sauce, mustard and water until sugar dissolves. Set aside.

Heat a wok or large skillet over high heat and when it’s very hot add the oil, swirl the oil around and add the beans. Cook stirring frequently until crisp tender. The skins will shrivel a little and be blackened in spots – reduce heat to medium high if beans darken too quickly. Transfer beans to a plate.

      Szechuan Green Beans  Favourite Asian Side Dish

Reduce heat to medium high and add the mince. Cook breaking it into small pieces, until no pink remains. Add garlic and ginger and cook stirring frequently until fragrant and the meat has been well browned. Stir sauce to recombine and return the beans to the pan along with the sauce. Toss and cook until the sauce has thickened. Taste for seasoning and add salt if it needs it – this will depend largely on the chilli sauce used and  the  intensity of the soy sauce. Remove pan from the heat and stir in the sesame oil. Serve immediately.

Best Asian Side Dish

Cooking with Le Creuset Series – Perfect Caramelised Onions for Pissaladière

Perfect Caramelised Onions for PissaladiereI don’t know about you but the most used piece of kit in my kitchen is my non-stick fry pan. I use it at least once a day, whether it’s for eggs on the weekend, searing meat, sautéing just about anything you can think of or, as in this case, caramelising onions. Due to it’s high usage, it’s also the piece of equipment I need to replace most frequently, and let me tell you not all non-stick pans are created equal. The things I look for are thickness and weight, metal handles so it can be transferred from the stove to the oven, the ability to be used on all cooking surfaces (e.g.  induction – you would be amazed how many pans are still out there that aren’t induction friendly), and possibly the most important is for it to be PFOA free.  The new range of Le Creuset non-stick pans tick all those boxes. They are reassuringly weighty and you can tell that the non-stick coating is reinforced onto the pan extremely well which means that with careful usage it’s going to last a very long time, so long that Le Creuset even offer a Life Time Guarantee! I also love the fact that their non-stick range is labelled as being dish washer safe but quite frankly the Le Creuset fry pan cleaned so easily I wouldn’t bother wasting space in my dishwasher.

Best Non-Stick Fry Pan

There are just some things that scream to be made in a non-stick pan and caramelised onions is one of them. I’ve tried doing them in a normal stainless steel pan but I can never achieve the same depth of colour. It’s very handy to have a batch of caramelised onions sitting in the freezer for when I want to make burgers, sandwiches, pasta or this tart, pissaladière, which hales from Southern France and is utterly delicious. Some people refer to pissaladière as French pizza, the similarity being that the toppings of caramelised onions (lots of them), anchovies and olives sit on a pastry base. Yes, I said anchovies but stay with me, even if you’re one of those people who think you don’t like them, this tart will convince you otherwise. The savoury saltiness of the anchovies is the perfect counterpart for the sweetness of the onions so there’s a fantastic harmony of flavours in every mouthful. Believe me you won’t taste anything fishy at all. But the star of the show in this tart is the onions and whilst caramelised onions can take a while to cook they aren’t difficult – all they need is a little time and a good pan. So cook them nice and slow and enjoy the amazing aromas that fill your kitchen.

French Caramelised Onion, Anchovy & Olive Tart

Ingredients

¼ cup oilve oil
1 tablespoon butter
4 large brown onions, peeled and finely sliced
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
Leaves from 4 sprigs of thyme
1 clove of garlic finely minced
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon chicken or vegetable stock
2 teaspoons sugar
A small jar of best quality anchovies, about 100g
Small black olives, pitted
1- 1½ sheets of ready rolled puff pastry – I used one sheet but the onions can be spread thinner if you want a slightly larger tart, just seal the two sheets of puff pastry together
2 tablespoons milk

Equipment Used
Le Creuset 30cm non-stick skillet

Method

Place a large heavy based fry pan or skillet, preferably non-stick, over a medium-low flame. Add the oil and butter and when the butter has melted add the onions along with a pinch of salt. Stir the onions to coat them with the oil. Reduce heat to low – I have my heat on just a little above the lowest setting, and cook stirring often for about an hour. You don’t need to stand over them but don’t go too far away, as you need to give them a stir every five minutes or so. Over the course of the hour the onions will slowly caramelise and become meltingly tender. The pictures below show the onions at 15 minute intervals with the thyme and garlic being added in the last fifteen minutes.

            Perfect Caramelised Onions Perfect Caramelised Onions

When the hour is up and when you’re happy with the depth of colour of your onions, season them with a little salt and pepper and add the vinegar, stock an sugar and stir scraping any residue on the bottom and sides of the pan until the liquid has evaporated. Turn off the heat and set the onions aside to cool. At this stage you can freeze or refrigerate the onions if you wish. They last for about a week in the fridge and for at least a month in the freezer.

     Best Ever Pissaladiere Best Ever Pissaladiere Best Ever Pissaladiere

To make the tart, preheat the oven to 190C. Take the pastry out of the fridge, you want it to be nice and cold,  and place it on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Lightly score a thin border around the edge of the pastry with a sharp knife. Evenly spread the cooled onions over the base making sure you stay within the scored border. Make a lattice pattern with the anchovies. If you find that your anchovies are quite wide just cut them in half lengthwise. Place an olive in the centre of each lattice. Brush a little milk over the exposed pastry and bake for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is golden. Remove from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. You can serve it hot or at room temperature.

French Caramelised Onion, Anchovy & Olive Tart

Coming Soon – Cooking with Le Creuset!

Le Creuset Store Sydney I’m really excited to announce that over the coming weeks I’ll be publishing a series of posts in which I’ll be road testing some Le Creuset pots and pans and pairing them with some classic French inspired recipes. I was recently in their Sydney flagship store on King Street in the CBD and the variety of cooking equipment and the amazing array of coloured pans in every size and shape imaginable would make anyone want to head straight for the kitchen.

Most of you would be familiar with Le Creuset’s signature enamel cast iron pans that were launched in 1925 but you may be surprised to learn that their range of products has expanded considerably and they have some of the finest quality stainless steel and non stick saucepans on the market – all designed with the same flair that Le Creuset are famous for. So stay tuned for the first post in the series – Perfect Caramelised Onions for Pissaladière, a savoury tart from Southern France made with Le Creuset’s new line of non-stick cookware.

www.lecreuset.com.au
Le Creuset Sydney – 106 King Street, SYDNEY, NSW, 2000;
Le Creuset Melbourne – Emporium Melbourne, Shop 309 Level 3, 287 Lonsdale Street, MELBOURNE, VIC, 3000

Le Creuset Store Sydney

Roast Pork Belly with Amazing Crackling & Braised Red Cabbage

Annabel Langbein Roast Pork Belly

Pork belly for me is a magical cut of meat. It’s one of the few cuts that can be roasted or braised with equally excellent results. My favourite way of cooking pork belly is to roast it, and of course roast pork just wouldn’t be the same without crispy crunchy crackling. Pork belly is a fatty cut of meat but as chefs have been saying for decades – fat equals flavour. The good thing about roasting pork belly is that the long cooking time means a lot of the fat is rendered away and as it’s rendering it bastes the meat keeping it super moist. In this recipe, adapted from Annabel Langbein, the pork flesh sits in a bath of milk while it roasts which results in even more tender meat. The combination of moist unctuous meat and crispy golden crackling is very hard to beat.

Annabel Langbein Roast Pork Belly

Now for the crackling – there’s a lot of debate and a lot of techniques out there for reaching crackling nirvana and it  can make roasting pork a little intimidating. My usual method is to score the meat (this is one area where everyone’s in agreement) and leave it in the fridge uncovered for a few hours to overnight. I then bring the pork to room temperature and dry it really thoroughly (a blow torch is great for this). I salt the skin generously and put it into a blasting hot oven for 25 minutes until the skin is starting to bubble and crackle. After that time the heat can be turned down and the meat left to cook slowly for another 1½ hours or so. But what I’ve usually found at the end of the cooking time is that the crackling isn’t quite as crisp as it should be so I need to crank the oven up again and cook it for another 20 minutes for the crackling to harden and become crisp. This time I tried something different. I oiled the skin just before putting it in the oven. I know some chefs do this but it went against the whole leave-the-skin-dry school of thought I’ve always  fervently followed. I was nervous and pretty convinced that the final result would be flabby soft crackling but to my surprise I achieved the best crackling ever. So I’m a convert and the skin of all future roast porks will be lovingly oiled up. I’ll still do the hot oven then slow oven thing but what I found different this time was that I didn’t need to blast up the heat again at the end – my crackling was perfectly crisp and golden after the slow cook. I served the pork with a lovely slow braised Austrian style red cabbage that is slightly sweet and slightly sour and works a treat with the pork.

Ingredients – Serves 4 generously

Pork Belly  Adapted from Annabel Langbein
1 to 1.2 kg pork belly with skin scored
A drizzle of vegetable oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons sea salt flakes
Small bunch fresh sage leaves
2 to 2½ cups of fresh milk

Austrian Style Braised Red Cabbage
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, finely sliced
1 red apple, unpeeled and diced into small thin pieces
1 small red cabbage, cored and very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ vinegar – I like to use half balsamic and half cider

For the Pork Belly: Preheat oven to 240C or 250C if your oven allows. Bring the pork to room temperature (I like to have it sitting in the fridge uncovered as this helps to dry out the pork skin). Thoroughly pat the skin of the pork dry and season the flesh side with pepper and half the salt. Place the sage leaves on the bottom of a baking dish (just large enough to hold the pork) and put the pork on top, skin side up.   Drizzle a small amount of oil on to the skin and rub it in. Season the top with the remaining salt.

Roast for about 25 minutes or until the skin is starting to blister and crackle.  Remove the baking dish from the oven and slowly pour the milk around the meat to come about half to two thirds of the way up the sides of pork.  Do not let the milk touch the skin otherwise it will loose its crackle.

   Amazing Roast Pork Belly with Crackling How to Get Perfect Crackling Every Time

Reduce the oven to 160C and roast for a further 1½- 2 hours or until pork is meltingly tender. Check the level of liquid during cooking and if it has evaporated add a little more to the pan.  At the end of the cooking time the crackling should be very crisp and golden. As I mentioned in the notes above I found that by oiling the skin I didn’t need to re-crispen the crackling. But if you do need to, then turn the oven back to a very high heat and cook for a further 15 minutes or so. Alternatively turn on the grill element and cook for a few minutes, but be careful as the crackling can burn quite easily under the grill.  Remove the pork from the oven, lift out from pan and allow it to rest uncovered for about 10 minutes before carving. Discard the liquids.

For the Red Cabbage: Place the butter in a medium size heavy based saucepan and place over medium heat. When the butter has melted add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook until slightly softened. Add the apple and brown sugar and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until the sugar has melted and the apples have softened a little. Add the red cabbage, the remaining salt and the vinegar. Stir to combine and bring to a simmer.

         Austrian Style Braised Red Cabbage Austrian Style Braised Red Cabbage

Lower the heat and cook covered for 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. After 45 minutes the cabbage will have wilted quite a lot. Remove the lid and cook uncovered, over very low heat, for a further 30-40 minutes or until most of the liquid has evaporated and the cabbage is meltingly soft and tender. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, sugar or vinegar if needed to achieve a good sweet and sour balance.

Annabel Langbein Roast Pork Belly

Delicious Spinach Gratin the Easy Way

Best Ever Spinach GratinAs much as I love eating spinach I don’t like all the tedious washing involved to ensure it’s grit and sand free. My normal method for washing spinach is to fill the sink with plenty of cold water, take all the spinach leaves off the stem, place them in the water and give them a good swirl around for a few minutes. Then I turn on the tap and rinse them through the running water as I take them out, squeezing as much excess water from the leaves as I can. I’m tired just writing about it! I maybe the last person on earth to discover this, but frozen spinach is an amazing product! Right up there with frozen peas in my opinion, and sure there are some applications where frozen chopped spinach is not going to be able to replace fresh leaves but in something like this gratin, frozen spinach is perfect and dare I say it even better than fresh. The amount of fresh spinach you would need to make a gratin like this would be ludicrous and you can never really chop the spinach in quite the same way. So finally a spinach dish that can feed a crowd, goes perfectly with a any grilled or roasted meat/poultry, especially steaks, and won’t have you washing, blanching and chopping for hours on end! I can see myself making this very regularly and it would be especially good for holiday meals when you need numerous side dishes that can feed a lot of people.

Ingredients – Serves 4  Adapted from Ina Garten

2 tablespoons (60g) unsalted butter
1 large onion, finely diced
1 heaped tablespoon flour
Large pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup cream
1 cup milk
750g frozen chopped spinach, defrosted (3 x 250g packages)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Method

Preheat the oven to 200C. Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saute pan over medium-low heat. Add the onions and saute until translucent, about 15 minutes – you want the onions to be very soft. Add the flour and nutmeg and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add the cream and milk and cook, stirring with a whisk, until thickened.


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Best Ever Spinach Gratin

Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach and add it to the sauce. Add 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese and mix well. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.Transfer the spinach to a baking dish and sprinkle the remaining Parmesan and the Gruyere on top. Bake for 20 minutes until golden and bubbly. Serve hot.

Ultimate Spinach Gratin

Chinese Red Cooked Chicken with Shiitake Mushrooms

Chinese Red Cooked ChickenRed Cooking in Chinese cuisine, Hong Shao, refers to food  (normally pork, chicken or duck) that has been braised in a mixture of soy sauce, Chinese rice wine and whole spices. The soy sauce and long braising imparting the meat with a lovely mahogany hue. It’s a wonderful warming and comforting dish that’s great for colder weather. I like to use thigh fillets for this recipe but you can also use whole chicken thighs or thigh cutlets with the bone in. You can leave the skin on or off, my preference is for the chicken to be skinless – if you can’t have crisp skin I don’t see the point and braising in liquid means the skin goes limp so might as well save the calories. One important ingredient in this dish is the rock sugar which is available at most Asian grocers. You could replace it with normal sugar which will give you the necessary sweetness but it won’t impart the same glossy finish to the sauce. If you’re doing an Asian themed dinner and want to serve a few main courses this would be an ideal dish to include on the menu as it can be prepared in advance and re-heated just before serving. I accompanied the  chicken with Szechuan green beans with spicy mince and lots of steamed rice to mop up the delicious braising liquid.

Ingredients – Serves 4 generously or 6 as part of a shared meal

1 kg chicken thigh fillets cut in half or thirds depending on size – you can also use whole chicken thighs/cutlets or any mixture of chicken pieces. You can leave the skin on or off – I prefer the chicken skinless
1 cup shoaxing Chinese rice wine – you can substitute with dry sherry
½ teaspoon salt
4 spring onions, chopped into 1 inch pieces- plus extra, finely sliced, for garnishing
2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into thin slices (not chopped)
3 tablespoons peanut oil or any other vegetable oil
8 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
3 whole star anise
2 long red chillies, cut in half – you can leave this out if your cooking for children but cutting the chilli in this way doesn’t impart any heat to the dish
1 x 3 inch cinnamon stick
1 piece dried tangerine peel, optional  – available in Asian grocers
⅓ cup dark soy sauce
¼ cup light soy sauce
3 tablespoons roughly chopped Chinese rock sugar or substitute with plain sugar
8-10 fresh shiitake mushrooms cut into thirds
2 teaspoons corn flour

Method

In a bowl, combine chicken, rice wine, salt, spring onions, and ginger. Leave to marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving chicken, spring onions, and ginger.

Heat a wok or a deep sided fry pan over high heat. Swirl in the oil and add garlic, star anise, chillies, cinnamon, and tangerine peel and cook for 1 minute. Add reserved chicken, spring onions, and ginger and cook until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Add soy sauces and cook for another couple of minutes. Add 1½ cups water and bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer covered for 30 minutes. Add sugar and shiitake mushrooms, stir well and cook uncovered for a further 15 minutes, by which time the chicken will be cooked through and tender.

Stir together the corn flour with 1 tablespoon cold water in a small bowl. Raise heat to high and pour in the corn flour mixture while stirring constantly. Cook, stirring, until sauce has thickened, about 5 minutes, if you still feel there is too much liquid just cook uncovered at a high simmer for a little longer. Remove from heat and let rest for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with finely chopped spring onions and serve with steamed rice.

Chinese Red Cooked Chicken with Shitake Mushrooms