Sometimes it’s difficult to make dishes fit into the TimedEating approach of not having to do too much last minute. For others, like Beef Wellington, they’re purpose built already. Beef Wellington is that perfect dish which is incredibly tasty, not very technical and can be made ready to go into the oven up to two days before you actually cook it. It’s something for special occasions but a beef fillet (tenderloin) encased in savoury mushrooms with bacon and a crispy puff pastry filling is one of the great classics – everyone should know how to make Beef Wellington.
There’s an argument in our house, G (my darling wife) insists that the best form of potatoes of all time are roast potatoes. I think mash wins hands down. So every Christmas that we go back to Australia we have two types of potatoes on the table – the Libling family tradition of creamy mashed potatoes with slow cooked onions and peas and G’s favourite, a pile of golden roast potatoes. This year though my side of the potato argument started to get a bit more lonely – my dad deserted me to the roast potatoes camp and I think my mum did too. Only my loyal little brother remained on my side (he’s taller, stronger and broader than I am but he’s still younger and hence will always be little). I like to think they’re only deserting me because after many trials I’ve finally cracked roast potatoes – G even went so far as to say they were the best roast potatoes she’s ever had (considering she ate no fewer than 7 on Christmas day, she’s has her fair share in her time).
I used to buy Florentines with my mum from a deli in Queen Street in Sydney. Little beautiful biscuits that were so delicate and fancy. As a boy of 8 or 9 I used to wonder how on Earth they got the biscuits and chocolate so thin, crisp and delicate. They were bursting with nuts and fruit, in particular glacé cherries which are still one of my guilty favourites. One of the few sweet treats that my dad liked as well (he’s allergic to sugar) Florentines were for special occasions, if for no other reason than they made any occasion special.
This Vietnamese pork belly recipe is perfect for a mid-week meal or as a dish to serve to friends when they come round. Salty, sweet, sharp and thoroughly delicious. It’s adapted from a recipe book called Koto – it’s . A beautiful book which touches on not just stunning recipes and photos of Vietnamese food but breaks down the cuisine by region and gives you a sense of Vietnamese culture along the way. It’s quite similar in that way to the cook book Samarkand, my favourite Persian cookbook from which I’ve shared recipes before (Tahdig and Aubergine Purée). Both cookbooks were given to me by my dad who it turns out has excellent cookbook taste. However, good cookbook or no this recipe is still an absolute cracker and the sauce works brilliantly whether it’s with pork belly, chicken thighs or even (if used sparingly) some fish.
I first cooked this herb crusted cod a few weeks ago and since I’ve probably driven G to distraction cooking it again and again. It’s a perfect combination of soft, subtle cod with a crunchy and pungent herb topping, the sweet flavours of the purée and vegetables making for a light and intensely satisfying dish. However, I kept tinkering – The herb crust wasn’t quite right, should it be crunchier? Are fresh breadcrumbs better than dried? Should I cook the cod in the oven or a pan? What’s the right kind of carrot to use, and is it better cooked in a pan or vacuum packed? Is it actually better with butternut squash not carrot? How finely should I shred the cabbage to make sure it cooks in the same time as the sweetcorn? Is Sweetheart cabbage better than Savoy? Through this process I found out three things.
- It doesn’t matter really, it’s always delicious
- The whole meal takes less than 30 minutes start to finish and can be paused in such a way that it will take 10 minutes to finish
- You can have too much of a good thing
The recipe I’m about to provide isn’t really ratatouille – you can’t make ratatouille without aubergine (eggplant) and this is really more of a quick vegetable ragu. But that just doesn’t sound as nice so I’m going to call it ratatouille and be done with it. Also it’s completely delicious, can be done ahead, is simple and healthy so when it comes to the name, as Clark Gable once said to Vivien Leigh, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”.
When I worked as the head chef of a pop up restaurant, we used to make butternut squash velouté with beurre noisette, sage and parmesan crisp for an amuse bouche. It sounds very fancy, tasted delicious and is super simple and easy to make once you know a couple of tricks. It also serves as the base for an amazing ravioli filling or, as I’ll show below, the most unbelievably tasty risotto that you can cook in advance like they do in restaurants. In fact (as I’ve posted before here), risotto is the ultimate dinner party meal – you can spend basically no time in the kitchen during the meal and everyone loves it and finds it impressive.
Oxtail is one of my absolute favourite cuts of meat; it’s rich, gelatinous, almost unctuous texture is coupled with an intensely meaty flavour. Add to that the fact that it’s intensely easy to cook in advance and it was always going to be a winner for our Halloween Sweeney Todd and Mrs Lovett pies that we cooked for our recent party (I’ll post everything we cooked soon!). The pies went down so well that every last one was scoffed down despite us implying that the contents were erstwhile barbershop customers. But the beauty of this oxtail recipe was once we made it, we used it for so many other purposes as well. We made ravioli, a ragu sauce for pasta, we had it with mashed potatoes and I even made an oxtail croquette (In the past I’ve made an oxtail and beef mince burger)– plus it freezes brilliantly. If you can’t find oxtail then shin of beef, beef cheek or any other slow braising cut of beef will work well (though the cooking time will be a little reduced as oxtail requires particularly long cooking). What I want to share with you though, is the secret ingredient I picked up from a few restaurant kitchens.
Crab is one of my all time favourite seafoods. I love crispy soft shell crab, I love crab claws dipped in garlic butter, I love shredded crab meat in a spicy Thai salad. However, I will forever vividly remember the first time G ever came to Australia. As a 19 year old feeling very grown up and taking his girlfriend to a really fancy Thai restaurant in Sydney we had a great meal – including crab – and took a taxi home. In the cab G suddenly fainted and was non-responsive for about ten terrifying seconds (felt like an hour) – turns out G’s allergic to crab. So we don’t eat it much.
After G and I started our honeymoon in Zambia (read about it here) we moved on to South Africa and Mozambique. South Africa was a dizzying display of safari animals and raw, beautiful landscape. We started in the Sabie Valley in a small lodge called Tanamera, passing an evening drinking South African wine and Gin and Tonics before delving into our plunge pool overlooking the valley below. We passed the night talking about all the animals we hoped we would see in the Kruger over the next few days – we were soon to see them all.