Random recipe #17: Albondigas

You know how when you’re a kid you go through a stage of wondering if you’re really a princess and hoping that your real parents will turn up? I know that wasn’t just me, because a few years ago I interviewed a couple who were convinced they were Russian royalty and they had told their nine-year-old daughter that her real name was really Princess Anastasia or something. Nevermind that the poor kid was getting bullied mercilessly at school because of it, her parents were too busy waiting for the gold ingots to turn up in the post to notice.
But I digress. Lately I’ve been wondering if my life would have turned out different if I had a Mexican grandmother. Daniella Germain does and she’s written My Abuela’s Table – a really beautiful book of said grandmother’s recipes.
My copy of this book happens to be in the middle of the middle shelf of cookbooks, so I chose the middle recipe from it for June’s Random Recipes.

Forgive me, but I didn’t exactly follow the recipe in My Abuela’s Kitchen, not least because it has ‘2 chicken cubes’ listed in the ingredients. I don’t put chicken stock cubes in anything, so I’m not about to start crumbling them into meatballs. Perhaps it’s not so cool to have a Mexican grandmother after all. Here’s my version of Daniella’ Germain’s grandmother’s meatballs in chipotle sauce. She cooks the meatballs in the sauce, but I baked mine in the oven and served the sauce separately. This serves four.

Chipotle-tomato sauce
Make the sauce first and let it simmer away on the stove while you prepare the meatballs.

2Tbsp olive oil
1/2 an onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tins tomatoes
2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, finely chopped

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan, then gently saute the onion and garlic until golden. Tip in the tomatoes and chipotle peppers. Bring to the boil, then turn the heat down and let simmer gently for at least 30-40 minutes. Stir occasionally, squishing the tomatoes against the side of the pan, until the sauce is dark and thick.

1/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs
a splash of milk
350g beef mince
250g pork mince
2 eggs
finely grated zest of a lemon
a handful of finely grated Parmesan
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 180C and line a large baking tray with nonstick paper.
Put the breadcrumbs in a large bowl and pour over a splash of milk to moisten them. Add all the other ingredients and mix lightly with your hands. Roll the mixture into small balls and place on the prepared tray. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until they are crispy on the outside and cooked through. Give the tray a shake halfway through cooking to turn them over. Serve with a pool of chipotle-tomato sauce.

Hot cross bunny

Many moons ago, a suitor of mine once arrived on the doorstep bearing a charmingly vacuum-packed rabbit. It was an unexpected and unconventional gift, but it certainly tasted better than a bunch of roses. I wasn’t sure what to do with it but he produced a few notes written on the back of a restaurant menu. Using them as a basis, this is how we cooked it.

Braised rabbit with tomatoes and olives
Rest assured that you don’t have to sacrifice the family pet or go hunting for this Easter dinner. Farmed rabbits are available from good butchers, farmers markets and some supermarkets – and they are usually sold already ‘dressed’ (decapitated, skinned and cleaned) . If you flinch at the idea of eating one of the Flopsy Bunnies, substitute free-range organic chicken pieces for the rabbit.

1 rabbit (around 1.5kg), cut into pieces (ask the butcher to do this for you)
1/2-3/4 cup plain flour
salt and pepper
3-4 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
2 ribs of celery, tough strings removed and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
150ml red wine
500g vine-ripened tomatoes (about five medium-sized ones)
Herbs: 1/2 a small bunch of fresh parsley (use the other half of the bunch for garnishing), several sprigs of thyme, a sprig of rosemary, a bay leaf
1 cup good quality black olives

Begin by putting the flour, a good pinch of salt and several grinds of black pepper in a plastic bag with the rabbit pieces. Close the top of the bag and shake well, ensuring the rabbit pieces are all covered with a nice dusting of flour. Remove from the bag and set aside (throw the unused flour away).

Blanch and peel the tomatoes – put them in a bowl, cover with boiling water and let sit for about 30-40 seconds. Lift out and nick the skins – they will lift off easily. Chop into chunks and set aside.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan and add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Saute over medium heat until starting to soften, then add the rabbit pieces, browning them on both sides. Pour in the wine and let it bubble away for a minute or two, then add the tomatoes and herbs. Cover and simmer very gently for 45 minutes to one hour, until the rabbit is cooked through and tender.

Stir in the olives and season with salt and pepper to taste. Scatter over some freshly chopped parsley before serving with steamed greens and hunks of chewy sourdough bread or crusty baguette. Feeds four.

F.E.O Chicken

People often assume I do all the cooking at our house and sometimes, when I am feeling especially like slack housewife, I let them. But during the week, at least in the horrible after-work rush, the Boy Wonder puts his pinny on* so when I get home from work dinner is already underway.
Last week he rang me at work, sounding rushed. I immediately envisaged the house being on fire or the Small Girl being in hospital but something much bigger was at stake.

Him: “I need to know the order again.”
Me: “What order?”
Him: “For the chicken. What do I do after the flour and before the oats?”
Me: “Oh. Egg. Flour, then egg (a beaten one), then – what? Oats? There’s some panko breadcrumbs somewhere I think…”
Him: “No, I’m going to use oats. Ok, so egg, then flour, then oats.”
Me: “No, flour, then egg, then oats. Flour, egg, oats. Do you really want to use oats? I think breadc…”
Him: “No, I’m going to use oats. Flour, egg. oats. F.E.O. Ok. Got it. Text me when you’re on the way.”

F.E.O Chicken
So, what I have learned from this is that a) I don’t always know best and b) my husband makes excellent fried chicken. This is – roughly – how he does it.

Chicken pieces – we use free-range, bone-in chicken thighs, because that’s what I buy at the supermarket
Salt and pepper
A beaten egg or two (also free range, see above)
Rolled oats
Peanut oil

Put some flour in a shallow bowl and grind in some salt and pepper.
Crack the egg(s) into a bowl and beat lightly.
Tip some rolled oats into a third bowl.
Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, then egg, then oats (recite the F.E.O mantra if you are worried about getting confused). At this point you can set the chicken aside in the fridge if dinner is some time away.
Heat some oil in a large heavy pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until the juices run clear. Turn the heat down once you have a nice golden crust and just be patient. “It takes a while, but you want it to be cooked,” says the expert.
Serve with homemade chips and salad made from the cos lettuces you grew yourself in the mini allotment at the end of the garden.  The little bits of oaty crust that get left behind in the pan are an excellent treat for whoever does the dishes.

*He doesn’t really wear an apron. He does have a high-vis vest though – but it might be a bit flammable to cook in.

Who does the weeknight cooking in your house?

The Silver Spoon’s Pollo Arosto

Who was it that said the more things change, the more they stay the same? This time last year I was shamefacedly admitting that I’d never cooked a single recipe from The Silver Spoon, the mammoth Italian cookbook apparently given to new brides that the Boy Wonder gave me for our wedding anniversary in 2007.
I dragged it out for the first-ever instalment of Belleau Kitchen’s Random Recipe challenge – and made a promise to myself to dip into it more often, which I have done. A bit. Well, I use it for reference a lot, and we did actually make an amazing swordfish thing out of it together, which was not in the usual rules for new Italian brides in the 1950s.

But to celebrate both Random Recipe’s first birthday – and our wedding anniversary – I dipped into The Silver Spoon again last night to make this rustic pot-roasted chicken. I was covered in dirt following an afternoon in the vegetable garden and felt more like an ancient Italian peasant woman than Sophia Loren, but that’s not such a bad thing, is it? There is an elegance in rustic simplicity, after all.

Pollo Arosto
This requires only a modicum more attention than an oven-roasted chicken and you don’t have to stand over the stove for long. The Silver Spoon recommends eating it with ”buttered carrots” but we had it with rice and bowl of salad greens.

4Tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 stick celery (I actually used a bulb of fennel, which worked well), chopped
1 stalk fresh rosemary
1 good chicken
salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a large heavy pot with a lid (like a Le Creuset or similar). Add the vegetables and rosemary and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Wash and dry the chicken and season the cavity with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string (or a bit of green bias binding, if that is the only thing that comes to hand). Raise the heat and add the chicken to the pot. Cook for another 15 minutes, turning occasionally. Splash in a bit of water or wine and clamp on the lid, then cook over low-medium heat for 45-50 minutes, until the chicken is cooked. The vegetables will cook down to a deliciously dark and sticky sauce, which is very good with rice.

 Random Recipes #13 - February

Random Recipes: Burmese Curry

There are few things more random than the meanderings of a two-and-a-bit-year-old, so I put mine to good use and got her to select the cookbook for this month’s Random Recipe challenge.

I can’t remember how I came to be in possession of Great Ways With Steak & Chops. It was probably a joke gift – I have ‘Cooking For Couples’ and ‘100 Dishes For Two’ that we got as engagement presents. GWWSC was published in 1972 by the Australian Women’s Weekly and written by its well-respected food editor, Ellen Sinclair. Her name should have prompted me to open this book earlier, but food snobbery being what it is, I thought the whole book would be full of appalling examples of 70s cuisine. There are many things in this book I will never, ever, make – such as Veal Oscar (veal steaks topped with canned asparagus, lobster meat and bearnaise sauce) or Pineapple Bacon Cutlets (lamb, topped with tinned pineapple rings, wrapped in bacon, breadcrumbed and baked), but GWWSC actually has some interesting, even enticing, recipes. This is one of them.

Burmese Curry

Ellen Sinclair, who wrote loads of other titles for the Australian Women’s Weekly, certainly knew her stuff. These recipes are very well-written and easy to follow (even if the photos are hilariously awful). The original recipe was very dry, so I splashed in about a cup of water as detailed below and upped the chilli quotient as detailed below. This can also be cooked in the oven – after adding the water clamp the lid on and let it bake for about 1 1/2 hours at 150C.

900g chuck steak, cut into 2cm chunks

2Tbsp oil

4 onions, finely chopped

5cm ginger, grated

2 cloves garlic, crushed

2tsp turmeric

1/2tsp chilli flakes

1 beef stock cube

1 1/2 – 2 cups water

2tsp soy sauce

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan with a lid. Add the meat and brown well, add the onions, ginger and garlic. Cook until golden brown.

Add turmeric, chilli, water and stock cube and bring to the boil, stirring.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer gently for one hour or until the meat is tender. Add soy sauce and salt to taste. Serve with rice. Serves 4-6.