A New York Minute

That's how fast time has flown since Christmas break with the family in the big apple. It was an absolute blur of work, crazy deadlines, major events, late nights, social engagements and celebrations, and now it's CNY, the week after, skiing, thereafter it’s back to work in a reshuffled team, more deadlines and a slew of events, and then it's easter... days collide into weeks into months and suddenly it's the next year. As Seuss said how did it get so late so soon? And with the head long rush into the future (whatever that might mean) comes the ever present need for things to move faster, be completed, so we can move on to the next big thing.

It’s tiring, and it’s this ever present rush and the accompanying lack of patience that makes me appreciate weeks like the one in NY the most. Quiet time alone, meals with family and friends, sitting around the kitchen counter having coffee and catching up, long, languid late night dinners, afternoons spent roaming the galleries and museums, or hiding inside from the cold reading actual books – rather than articles on the internet. It felt like I had pressed the pause button in life – it was peaceful, serene and I didn’t feel bad about turning down social engagements just to recharge (whenever I’ve tried telling friends I want a quiet Friday night in with my pet and my husband, I am almost always met with crazy raised eyebrows).

The other epiphany – it’s in those moments when you have time to think that you create the most “valuable” things – forging new connections with old acquaintances, rehashing an idea in your mind till it’s properly crystallized, or simply coming into new realisations about who you are, and what you’d like for your life to look like, and I know this much: I’d like my life to look like more than my primary school pet hamster on a wheel of work-dinner-drinks-holiday-work-clean the house-social engagement-work…. My hamster didn’t last very long.

It’s not the new year, but resolutions can be made at any time (so long as you do try to stick with them). So here goes: I will take time to think things through to create a life that is most worth living.

Crackling that's unimaginably easy

Don't believe me? Watch this video. The only thing this dish really requires is patience.

I should probably consider re-naming this site to read something along the lines of the lazy girl's guide to cooking things that look somewhat impressive but really require very little effort or energy.

Truth is, this dinner only came about because they ran out of beef short rib at Cold Storage, and I was left scrambling at the eleventh hour trying to find a main dish that would (1) feed 6 or more (2) require little or no work on my part (3) look somewhat presentable without excessive plating and (4) not be another variation of roast chicken. This lovely roll of pork belly seemed like just the ticket. 

I won't even bother giving you detailed instructions, just buy the ingredients (1kg of rolled pork belly and roasting vegetables for the bottom of the pan) and watch Scott Rea's video. You really can't mess it up if you listen to the man. But a couple of things you should pay particular attention to:

  • Scoring. It's important. It's not exactly pleasant, but you'll really get the flavours of the seasoning deep into the skin (I used a mix of salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried oregano and thyme) and throughout the body if you coat the roast thoroughly. 
  • When he says crisp the skin first, he means it. You want to start roasting at the highest heat imaginable to get that skin to crisp. I pre-heated the oven and put the pork belly (skin up) in the oven at a scorching 250°C for about 20-25 minutes before lowering it to 170-175°C for the remaining oven time. 
  • Ventilation. Scott used vegetables to prop up the roast, I had the benefit of a proper roasting rack. Whichever method you use, don't skip this step. It's important to ensure the bottom of the pork roll isn't squashed against the pan as it will overheat and dry out. You want it resting gently on the vegetables (or rack) so the meat is cooked by the hot air in the oven, and not the hot metal surface of the pan. 

Listen to Scott and in about 3 hours you'll have the most juicy, succulent and tender pork belly. 

The hardest part about making this dish is having the patience to wait for it to be ready, and the willpower to resist eating other things when the heady aroma of slow roasted pork permeates the whole house for three. whole. hours.

Part of me thinks that the torture of the long wait makes the roast that much tastier. 

Happy cooking during the holidays! This one is sure to win over friends and family!

Giving Thanks in 2014

And there really is so much to be thankful for this year.

thanksgiving 2014

For family, new and old. For friends. For a place to call our own (even if it's temporary). For a home we'll build together (eventually). For good health which we really take for granted. For gainful employment (and the paycheck that comes with it!). For new initiatives, ventures and adventures. For the chance of a lifetime together with P. 

One pot to rule them all

There comes a time in a woman's life when she realises she just doesn't need all that many things.

Okay, maybe I'm just speaking for myself - the handbag roster is down to 4 stalwarts, and the shoe rotation (during the work week) goes black, beige, snakeskin, leopard and more leopard - and while it sounds terribly unexciting, I suppose the classics really do work for me.

As it turns out, the same scenario's played out in the kitchen. I've abandoned all my beautiful new pots in favour of a single trusty, dependable and very hard-working Le Creuset oval french oven - a more practical shape as compared to the round french oven as oval ovens accommodate longer cuts of meat - I even got it in Le Creuset's classic orange! It's a multi-purpose wonder as it goes from stove-top to oven to table, without breaks in between, and without plating or additional serving dishes. This has the added benefit of making clean up a breeze, much to my husband's delight.

You've never known how easy it can be to make absolutely delicious meat dishes with so very little energy. To anyone with a fear of drying out a pork loin, or overdoing a cut of beef, or making stringy chicken - this is the answer to your prayers. These hearty dishes served up in classic cast iron pots even manage to look impressive, in spite of the cook's lack luster effort in the area of presentation.

So in the spirit of sharing is caring, two recipes that I guarantee will make your better half think you're god's gift to mankind. 

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs
(recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit)

Click here for the ingredients list then follow these directions. You can follow them loosely as I did or to a T. It will turn out brilliantly either way, just keep the temperature low and consistent, and the beef in there for as long as possible:

Preheat oven to 350°F (approx 180°C). Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, brown short ribs on all sides, about 8 minutes per batch. Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off all but 3 Tbsp. drippings from pot.

Add onions, carrots, and celery to pot and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are browned, about 5 minutes. Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red, 2-3 minutes. Stir in wine, then add short ribs with any accumulated juices. Bring to a boil; lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half, about 25 minutes. Add all herbs to pot along with garlic. Stir in stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to oven.

Cook until short ribs are tender, 2–2 1/2 hours. Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain sauce from pot into a measuring cup. Spoon fat from surface of sauce and discard; season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Serve in shallow bowls over mashed potatoes with sauce spooned over.

Coq Au Vin (with a wee bit of a twist)

For the most part, I followed Bon Appetit's recipe for this tasty chicken dish, and I'm certain the original recipe would have been just as good, if not better, but I was very low on a good quality dry red wine (like Burgundy), had way too much beer leftover in the fridge from the last time my brother came over, and had a quarter box of grapes left. So all those things went in, in addition to what was stipulated in Bon Appetit's recipe. These one pot recipes seem like a good way to get rid of things that have been sitting around too long in the fridge. 

Also, while it might seem like a lot of steps, it really isn't! Once it's in the oven you can basically kick back and relax till it's done. 

Preheat oven to 350° (approx 180°C). Heat 1 tablespoon oil in an ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Season chicken with salt and pepper. Cook chicken in batches until browned, 5-6 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.

Add bacon to pot; cook until rendered. Add carrots, celery, and onion; cook until onion is translucent, 7-8 minutes. Stir in 1 cup wine and tomato paste; simmer for 2-3 minutes. Add remaining 3 cups wine. Boil until wine is reduced by half, 15-20 minutes. Return chicken to pot.

Add broth. Tie thyme and rosemary sprigs together; add to pot. Bring to a boil and cover pot. Transfer pot to oven and braise until chicken is tender, about 1 1/4 hours.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; sauté until browned, about 5 minutes.

Transfer chicken from sauce to pot with mushrooms; keep warm. Simmer sauce over medium heat until reduced by 1/3, about 20 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add mushrooms and chicken to sauce.

My favourite part about this dish is that you can actually make it up to 3 days in advance of when you plan to serve it and it doesn't dry out. It's a pretty good dish to serve if you're planning to have guests over for a mid-week meal as you can make it late on Sunday and it will still be delicious on Wednesday!

Other recipes I'm mad excited to try from Bon Appetit's 21 Recipes for Dutch Ovens series include: 

1. Chile braised short rib; 2. One pot clam bake; 3. Pork loin braised in milk; 4.Beer braised carnitas

If only there were more weekends in the week to make all the food I want to eat!