Sunday, 27 September 2015

Beef cheeks

I routinely wonder whether I am a fundamentally lazy person due to my penchant for cooking food that only needs one pot and that can be prepared hours even days in advance. Whilst I love to watch cooking shows like My Kitchen Rules, I realise I could never be a contestant as the three-hour prep time is about 24 hours too short for me.

I've never mastered the art of the pressure cooker either. I was about nine when I saw my mum take hers off the stove and unleash it before it had "de-pressurised" thereby coating every wall and surface of the kitchen with its contents. I think she made dad clean it up so I guess more power to her.

My favourite sort of cooking is like this beef cheeks recipe. Throw it all in and let time be the kitchen master. Or mistress. It's cheap too. Total cost for the beef cheeks was $10 and I think that was for about 1kg. The most expensive part was the red wine. Please don't skimp on the red wine. Please don't be one of those people who think that cooking wine is cheap wine. Think of it this way - you need 500 mls in this recipe so you want the rest to be something worth pouring into a glass and pouring down your throat.

You'll need your slow cooker for this. It's embarrassingly easy to make, just make sure you cook it a day before you need it. 

Feeds an army, or 6 people. 


Beef cheeks, about 1kg. I used five but forgot to weigh them.
1 onion, chopped
1 celery stalk, sliced
1 carrot, diced - don't get all in a tizz about even sizing and what have you, it's all good
12 mushrooms, quartered
4 cloves of garlic (for 6 like I used...)
6-8 stems fresh thyme or 1 hefty teaspoon of dried thyme (I used dried)
4 bay leaves
1 cup beef stock
400g tin chopped tomatoes
500 mls or 2 cups of red wine - decent red people, not cask!
Salt & pepper


Cut away any visible fatty bits from the beef cheeks. Heat a heavy based pan. Season the cheeks with salt and pepper and fry them on both sides till lovely and brown. You may need a little oil but just see if the natural fats from the cheeks do the trick first. You can transfer them straight to the slow cooker when done. You want all those gorgeous juices. Trust me.

This the wine I used.
In the same pan, add the onion and garlic and swoosh it around for about 2 minutes then add the celery and carrot. Swoosh for another 2-3 minutes then tip all that into the slow cooker as well.

Now it becomes a big tipping game. In go the mushrooms, tinned tomatoes, thyme, bay leaves, beef stock and red wine. Tip tip tip. Be extravagant with your movements and say "daaaah-ling" to nobody in particular.

Cook on high for 3 hours, then pop it to low for another 3. If your weather is cool, like it is here in Wellington, you can then turn the whole lot off for the night and go to bed. Next day, pop it back on low and it's ready for dinner.

Serve with creamy mashed potatoes (don't forget the butter) and steamed green beans. Freeze what's left. You'll be glad you did.

Oh, and finish that bottle of red.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Chocolate & banana bread

Oh good Lord, I can't believe I haven't posted this one. My daughter's school lunch box staple and still her go-to snack food when she's with me. Which isn't much at the moment because she is volunteering in South Africa. So I must be feeling nostalgic over here in NZ, because all I can think about is making it and wishing I could send her some. So Jade, this one is for you. 

And no, it's not way up there on the health food scale; it's got butter and brown sugar and lots of chocolate but just be a grown-up about it, and have one slice only and share the rest and make do with a second cup of tea. This also freezes like a genius so slice up what's left, wrap each piece in cling film and freeze. When it's time to make school lunch, it's ready to throw in. 


Spray oil and baking paper

2 cups self-raising flour
1 cup white chocolate bits (or more, I usually use more)
1 cup milk chocolate bits (or dark chocolate, if you prefer, and more if you prefer)
¾ filmly packed brown sugar
½ shredded coconut
1 tsp bicarbonate soda
2-3 mashed bananas (like 2 large, 3 medium blah blah blah)
1 cup milk (yes the full-fat not that watery stuff, not for my recipes)
100g melted butter (yes butter, proper cooks butter not that pretend stuff)
2 eggs, lightly whisked


Pre-heat your own to 200°C. Spray two loaf tins (mine measured 19cm x 9cm) with oil and line with baking paper. Or use those fab silicone ones, no need to line or spray or wash up with those.

Sift the flour into a nice big bowl, then add the two lots of chocolate bits, sugar, coconut and bicarb and give it a good stir.

Now go get another nice big bowl, and into that put the banana, milk, butter and eggs. Give it a good mix then pour the whole lot in with the flour mixture and stir till just combined.

Pour into the tins and use the back of your wooden spoon to smooth the surface.

Whack them into the oven for 40 minutes. You'll know when they're done when you insert a skewer and it comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and eat.

If you've got any of that butter left over, you can smother some of it on your slice.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Red wine jus

It's always the little things that complete a meal. Linen napkins, long stemmed wine glasses, a good sauce. Whilst there's a lot about Manu Feildel that bugs the crap out of me - his overt flirtiness, his overt French accent, his overt willingness to use store-bought stock - I am a massive supporter of his love of sauce. 

My sauce doesn't even have to be sauce. Sour cream, bbq sauce and mint jelly do me equally well. But when I'm serious, I love making an orange and cognac sauce for some chicken, or a blue cheese and walnut sauce for some rare steak. 

Tonight, we had beef and roasted root vegies (swede, parsnip, fennel, beetroot) and seeing as we were going to enjoy a bottle of red with it anyway, I figured why not chuck some of it in a sauce. A red wine jus is not like the Romans discovering the wheel or Kim Kardashian taking a nude pic, ie it's not new. But it's bloody good and a reliable standby. Here's my recipe. 

Serves 4 (or Manu and one other) 


olive oil
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 sprig rosemary
2 cloves garlic (oh ok, you can have three)
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
250 ml red wine (pick a big one, like a Cab Sav, and it doesn't have to be expensive either but try to avoid using something from a cask)
500 ml beef stock (go on, be like Manu, use a store-bought one)
1-2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
salt and pepper
knob of butter


Heat some oil in a saucepan, and fry up the spring onions for about 3 minutes but keep your eyes on it so it doesn't burn. Add the rosemary and garlic for another few minutes then pour in the balsamic vinegar. Let it cook at almost boiling until it gets a bit syrupy then chuck in the wine and pour yourself a hefty glass as well. Go on, you deserve it.

When the wine has reduced by about half, it's time to add the beef stock and keep that near-boiling thing happening and keep stirring it as well with a wooden spoon. Which is nice really as it gives you something to do while you enjoy your wine.

So after about 5-7 minutes, when it's starting to resemble something they might serve in a paid eating establishment, add the brown sugar and cornflour and a grind of the salt and pepper. Nows about the time you want to get your whisk out and work the lumps out of that cornflour with the same intensity that Justin Beiber works on making himself unlikeable.

It will get much thicker and more gorgeous looking and that's when you can take it off the stove and strain it into a glass or ceramic jug and add the knob of butter.

Now all you need is a roast beef or some steaks and serve the jus in a quaint little jug on the side.

Oh and the rest of that bottle of red.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Curried chicken hot pots

I've not done much on my cooking blog this year. What with all that palavar with moving to New Zealand, and selling our house through the most ethically deficient real estate agents I've ever known, and wrapping up my work in Brissie... pause for the dramatic background music and the thumping noise as several angels fall to earth in sacrifice. 

But last night I posted a spur-of-the-moment pic of my culinary outcome. These hot pots were a mish-mash of two recipes. Amusingly they were from different Weight Watchers cook books but by the time I'd finished with them, they more appropriately should have come from Nigella or Two Fat Ladies. They were also dead-set easy to pull together. I work from home and I literally (not figuratively you grammar Nazis) walked out of my office when I heard Alan arrive, and started cooking and had them in the oven in probably 20 minutes. I would hazard a guess that I could have done it in 15 minutes but I obviously allowed time to pour wine and kiss my husband. 

A few people have asked for the recipe so here it is my loves, with all my added fat. You just go ahead and subtract that which makes your arteries frightened. And don't think the 20 minute thing is an Olympic record that needs a challenge. You just take your time and do the hell you please. I know I do... x


1 chicken breast, skin off
2 cups frozen vegies (carrots, broccoli, beans, cauliflower - that sort of stuff)
1 Continental chicken stock pot (the best thing to happen to cooking since me)
1 brown onion, chopped finely
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped finely or pushed through that thing that mulches it
1-2 teaspoons curry powder (less or more, depending if you're feeding a 5 year old or a hungry husband)
1 tin chopped tomatoes 400g
1 tin coconut cream/milk 400g (if you don't use it all, you can freeze the leftover)
2-3 sweet potato (or as we call them here, kumera)
milk/cream, salt and butter (for mashing the kumera after it has boiled)
grated tasty cheese, grated parmesan cheese, mild paprika (for topping)
oil - for frying and what have you (or butter...)


Pre-heat your oven to about180-200⁰C (if it's fan-forced go lower). Lightly spray some oven-proof ramekins (2-cup capacity) with oil. Aim for four but have a couple spare just in case.

Boil a big pot of water. Peel the sweet potato and cut into chunks. Chuck in the boiling water and keep an eye on it while you do stuff with the chicken. When it's cooked (that's when a skewer goes through it without argument), drain and pop back on the heat for 30 seconds to dry off any leftover water. Add a good dollop of butter, milk or cream (forgive me, I used cream) and a good pinch of salt and mash really really well.

Cut the chicken into 1cm cubes. Heat a bit of oil on a heavy frypan and cook the chicken till it's brown, say five minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate. I like to have some paper towels on the plate to drain the juice so the poor chicken isn't sitting in its own, you know, wetness.

In the same pan as you cooked the chicken, add a bit more oil, then add the onions. When they've had a jolly time for say 3-4 minutes, throw in the garlic and curry power and stir for a minute.

(My curry powder of choice is Bolsts Hot Curry Powder. I had to get it from the IGA in Brisbane as Coles/Woolies don't sell it. Can't seem to get it for love nor money in NZ but fortunately I packed 10 tins when I moved so have sufficient. If you're not currently married to a curry powder, please give this gorgeous stuff a go.)

Then you get to the fun bit. Chuck the chicken back in, along with the tomatoes, frozen vege and the coconut milk. You be the judge on the quantity of coconut milk but I used half a 400g tin. This is where you give it a good shot of salt and pepper as well. Please use a proper salt, like Maldon, and fresh ground black pepper. Don't be like my mum, who uses her Saxa iodised salt and white pepper from the picnic hamper.

Let all that loveliness meld together in a way the Catholics and Protestants will never be able to do. Unless of course Pope Frank has his way. Which seems to be happening so I guess watch this space.

Now you can have a good gulp of your wine, and start to assemble. Put the chicken mixture into your oily bowls, about three-quarters of the way up. Spoon over some mashed sweet potato (you'll need a spatula for this and maybe the back of a fork to create waves if you're that way inclined) and then top with the two cheeses and a good sprinkle of the paprika.

Put on a flat tray and bake for 25 minutes.

Let it cool a bit before serving with a green salad. And wine. If there's any left.