Beef & Mushroom Pies

Some cooler weather and a glut of David Blackmore's wagyu beef shin in our fridge has caused a dramatic increase in slow-cooked beef dishes at the Garden Club. With some excess mushrooms at hand, I thought it would be a good idea to cook up a beef and mushroom braise knowing that hubby would be eager to launch the first festival of the pie for 2008.

For this auspicious event we decided to be more diligent than usual and use differing pastries for the case and lid - short and puff respectively. And with that in mind, we then thought we'd go the (mostly) whole hog and get the pastry everyone's raving about...

Having done the legwork, I passed the reins over to hubby - a pie fiend of English origin and owner of a Sunbeam Pie Maker (an admission that has been met with incredulity by other bloggers domiciled in Australia and USA). As we don't even own a microwave, this may seem like a strange household appliance, but it was given to him (by me) on our first Christmas - I thought it would really tickle him, and seven and a half years on I think that's what keeps him with me!

After some lacklustre pies reviewed over at PiEcon, these pies packed with natural flavour were a refreshing change.

The pie maker has its limitations, the first being what it does with the pastry. Unlike an oven the pie maker has some level of contact with the surface of the pie, thus the lid does not develop the proper puffy flakiness it should. The case is less impeded, although blind baking in a pie shell would certainly give a better result. Hubby noted that the case "shrinks" as he fills it and I explain the blind baking principle (with the help of the back of the packet) to him.

The second frustration with the pie maker is the size of the mould - it's about 2/3 of the average pie. This makes it small for a chunky filling and as you can see, the moisture seems to be squeezed out of the fillings.

To address this, we chucked the mixture into the food processor, resulting in a filling with less texture, but a vastly more portable pie.

Longrain recipes

I have been a fan of Longrain for a very long time. For a white girl of European descent on all sides, I have an inexplicable place in my heart for Asian cuisines. The increasing popularity of some of these cuisines (the shift from Chinese to Vietnamese to Thai in Sydney for example) has resulted in a lot of disappointment - faddish food that doesn't capture the essence of the cuisines purported to be served.

Longrain is an exception to this rule. With the best mojitos I have ever had and sensational betel leaves (only rivaled by ones eaten in a fancy place in Hua Hin) Longrain always gets off to a good start - even if it's a long wait until the next act.

Chic and contemporary it is still comfortable; it's range is comprehensive and I never know who I will see when I'm there - friends from my childhood, their parents, my parents, people from my neighbourhood, models from Australian fashion week, and Michael Klim and his wife are just some of my co-diners on occasions. I figure, if this place is good enough for a Thai princess, it's good enough for me!

With a recent foray into the wonders of Blackmore's wagyu beef shin selling over at animal vegetable mineral, my sister reminded me of the braised beef at Longrain. Having put a stop to buying cookbooks for myself some years ago (I wouldn't see daylight if I bought the ones I think I want), I hoped that some naughty blogger had posted a copy of it, or failing that an adaptation from one of the food publications knocking around.

A search on google lead me to "Google Book" - a feature I was unaware of until now, with previews of books with links where to purchase. The preview of Modern Thai Food: 100 Simple and Delicious Recipes From Sydney's Famous Longrain Restaurant, is literally a page by page glimpse of what the book contains - enough to get the recipe out of it.

(photo from Longrain's website)

Guess what I'll be making this weekend?

organic - naturally confusing!

organic adj 1a of or derived from living organisms b of food, farming, etc: produced or carried out without the aid of chemical fertilizers, pesticides, etc. 2a of or arising in a bodily organ. b affecting the structure of an organism. 3a forming an integral element of a whole. b having systematic coordination of parts. c. resembling or developing in the manner of an organism. 4 containing carbon compounds, esp those occurring in living organisms, or denoting the branch of chemistry dealing with these.

The Penguin Concise English Dictionary
Without a doubt, the green market is established in the retail arena - everyone making anything from washing detergents to home brand tinned tomatoes has an "organic" or "eco" product. No longer a concept derived at a hippy love-in, green marketing is worth big bucks - in Britain, the organic grocery market is estimated to be worth more than £2 billion ($4.2billing) per year according to a recent media report.

But before the bandwagon becomes a runaway train, should we pause to consider what we are buying into? Is the "green revolution" a serious recognition of the dynamic between global economy and ecology, or is it an attempt by global corporations to re-capture the attention of jaded consumers?

I firmly believe that keeping things natural is the way forward. I am a reducer, reuser, recycler from way back. I eat very little processed food, and Al Gore II patrols our house turning off power points he deems not in use (despite whether I hold this opinion or not).

Some days however, I can't help but feel a bemused grin creeping across my face. It can be brought on by a visit to a "growers" market, a market research expedition, reading the papers and perusing the many opinions espoused on the internet.

Take for example "organic tinned tomatoes". Tomatoes are inherently organic; what does the label tell us? I think it's supposed to convey the impression that they are grown and produced in a more natural manner, using non-synthetic growth promoters (fertilisers) or pesticides.

Certified organic tomatoes could mean a scientist examined the molecules of my tomatoes to determine that they are indeed from a growing organism. Do I question whether the omission of certified means that they might not be organic, or tomatoes? And what to the tomatoes that are not identified as organic - are they laboratory conjured?

Consumer groups like Choice lobby the ACCC to provide regulation in labeling products "organic" in order to give consumers a clear understanding of what they are buying. Substantiating claims on products is a good thing, yet I can't help but think that we are getting lost in marketeers playing on words.

Perhaps if our society placed less importance on sporting prowess and entertainment, and promoted vocabulary and independent thinking as important skills our population would be better positioned to recognise marketing hype for what it is.

tautology n (pl -ies) the needless repetition of an idea, statement or word, or an instance of this.
The Penguin Concise English Dictionary

cook's privilege

I come from a food-obsessed family.

Growing up it wasn't always clear that was how it would pan out. My mum was a great educator in all things culinary (not to mention the Chinese cooking classes she ran) and her talent for this is obvious when you meet our family - our 21st birthday parties are still talked about in some suburbs of Sydney!

Her greatest achievement in this realm however, has been with my dad. Food for dad was a necessity - gobbled as quickly as possible before the 6 brothers and sisters had an opportunity to start tucking in to his share. Mum grew up on a farm with one brother; food was their livelihood and valued.

When my parents met (in the early 1970's) my dad was yet to sample a pizza and his idea of chinese food was the chop suey grandma would get in a pot from down the road! My mother, a country lass, was far more cosmopolitan. Within 5 years the two would be married and living in Tokyo!

As I was growing up, dad continued to be a fussy bugger when it came to food. Fortunately he traveled a lot for work, so mum flexed her culinary mastery in his absence and we traveled the world at dinner time.

Over the years dad must have become suspicious of the food choices the rest of were making as he started trying some of them. We now wish he had never been introduced to some - an extra rocket salad must be ordered these days if anyone else wants a look-in! He's now mastered not only eating but preparing many cuisines, an expert at gyoza and sui mai, home made flour tortilla and pizza, not to mention his life long passion with fire (the barbecue of course!).

Back then however, dinner when dad was in residence was much more anglo and conservative - roasts, corned beef, grilled chops, steak, etc.

Mum and dad had common ground when it came to food - it had to be fresh, natural and good quality, so it was always good, even if we complained it was boring. I get great amusement that these dinners we moaned about as kids now fetch big bucks at slick city diners - you won't see me shelling out $35 for corned beef!

Lamb shanks are another restaurant anomaly for me. Back in the olden days, the shank was left attached to the leg, and as the lamb roast was nearing readiness and left to rest, the cook or, at least in our house, the carver, devoured the juicy, tender shank. Nowadays the shank has usually been removed from the lamb leg, reserved for sale in its own right.

I was reminded of all this last night as I cooked Thit Heo Kho (Braised Pork with Egg and Coconut Juice) from SBS food safari's Vietnam episode. As the pork belly bubbled away, and the husband was out with the dog, I tucked into the 3 tiny ribs that had been attached to the belly and cooked in the "sealing" stage of the recipe. I didn't tell them - that's my little cook's privilege!

slideshow from animal vegetable mineral