02 November 2010


The Cooks

Dare I say it, but this may possibly have been our best cooking club EVER - and not just in culinary terms.

This month we celebrated 5 years together with a getaway to Pinjarra, where, as the Pinjarra Visitor Centre describes as " ... the Centre of the Peel Region.. Where the Murray River begins in the hills and meanders down through the picturesque farmland."

It all started with a relaxed, gently paced lunch at Raven Wines (ravenwines.com.au) where Head Chef Luke Cattana has devised a 'grazing selection' of little plates to share. I love this style of eating as you get to sample a variety of dishes which, if you are anything like me - I find it incredibly difficult to choose just ONE dish - is just perfect. I'm not here to review the restaurant, but if you're in the area- DO make a stop for a bite. The decor is fresh, crisp and smart, staff are friendly and helpful (I turned up with a big tagine of oxtail and asked if they could find some space to store it in their coolroom while we lunched-they obliged with a smile) and what we ate was fabulous. Loved every bite.

Valley View Cottage, Pinjarra, Western Australia

We then made our way to the charming "Valley View Cottage", a private property of 100 acres set atop a hill overlooking a couple of spring fed dams and valleys. I can't begin to describe how tranquil, quaint and "Country Style" gorgeous the little cottage is. The most impressive thing, other than the view of the valleys from the sweeping front verandah, was the extensive, rambling rose gardens! Roses of almost every colourway and variety were represented. There were also stone fruit, almond, fig and lemon trees, all with budding fruit. The surprise, was the seemingly neglected patch of asparagus crowns. I have never seen them growing before, and when I spied those bright, crisp stems picked one instantly for a taste and was blown away. Juicy, snappy and bright green, with the taste of sweet peas. I truly felt we were channelling Maggie Beer herself as we harvested them later to have with our meal!

For the next little while we all pottered around, some of the girls flicked through magazines, CookN worked on her Reiki and Reflexology techniques, I went off with my camera and CookV snuck in a nanna-nap! (She said she was reading but I dunno...we were all pretty relaxed!!)

I have observed, within our dynamic little group, an amazing energy and connection. Some of us don't see each other outside of Cooking Club once a month. Yet when we are together we seem to tune in to each other subconsciously and things just seem to happen without much fuss or discussion. Around 4.30pm we all started to gravitate towards the kitchen and each attended to the tasks of assembling our much anticipated feast. CookEl was busy blanching her broad beans, CookA prepping her spinach and asparagus that had just been picked minutes earlier; my Oxtail needed another hour or so of gentle simmering and the excitement started to bubble as dinner time drew closer. Wine was poured, the table was laid and the usual chatter and discussion about who made what or which Maggie cookbook the recipe was from took over the kitchen!

In no time we were seated and started our culinary homage to that wonderful self taught, iconic Dame of Australian Cooking (not Margaret Fulton-the other one!), Maggie Beer. This is how it went:

Recipe by Maggie Beer
3 cups broad beans
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (evoo) plus last moment drizzle
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
80-100g pecorino
4 slices sourdough bread for bruschetta

Blanch the broad beans in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes and refresh in cold water immediately. Heat a grill pan until hot, brush the slices of sourdough with a little olive oil and grill until well toasted on each side.
Add a little more evoo to the beans. Mix with mint and a little more evoo as needed. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Spoon onto the grilled bruschetta and serve with shavings of pecorino and an extra drizzle of evoo.


Recipe from Maggie Beer

1 ½ large Onions, roughly chopped
1 stick Celery, roughly chopped
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
70g shelled Walnuts 2kg Oxtail, trimmed and cut into 5cm pieces
Plain flour, for dusting
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
50g Butter, chopped
1 cup Red wine
2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
5 stalks flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig Thyme
1 fresh Bay leaf
250g fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled and seeded
500ml Beef stock
500ml Water
2 strips Orange rind
20 black Olives
¼ cup Red Wine Vinegar
2 ½ tbsp Sugar

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Toss the onion and celery with a little of the olive oil in a roasting pan, then roast for 20 minutes until caramelised.

Dry-roast the walnuts on a baking tray in the oven for 6 minutes, then rub their skins off with a clean tea towel and set aside.

Toss the meat in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, shaking off the excess. In a heavy-based frying pan, brown the oxtail in batches in the remaining olive oil and the butter over high heat. Transfer each batch to a large heavy-based casserole.

Deglaze the frying pan with the wine, scraping to release all the caramelised bits from browning. Add the garlic, onions, celery, herbs and tomatoes to the frying pan and reduce the wine a little over high heat, then tip the lot into the casserole.

Add the beef stock and the water, making sure that everything is immersed, and simmer over low heat, covered, until tender – this could take 3 to 4 hours.
Add the orange rind and olives in the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Strain the cooking juices from the meat and skim as much fat as possible from the top. Set the meat aside in a warm place.

In a stainless steel or enameled saucepan, combine the Red Wine Vinegar and sugar and boil until the vinegar has evaporated and the sugar has caramelised. Reduce the cooking juices to a syrupy consistency, then add the caramel mixture to taste.

Toss the cooked oxtail with the walnuts and pour the sauce back over the oxtail.

CookA created the most unctuous, smooth and buttery wet polenta, and sauteed spinach and those wonderful asparagus spears as well as crispy fried shallots for crunch. The perfect accompaniments to the sticky rich stew of oxtail. The tender meat fell off the bone without so much as a prod of the fork and was delicious. Oxtail has for too long, until now perhaps (!), been underrated, unlike its more glamorous cousin- the shin or osso bucco. Its not so much the economy of the cut ( expecially when you consider the ratio of flesh to bone) but its rich, beefy flavour and texture. Although at the end our plates appear as if we've just devoured some sort of dinosaur!

So, how do you follow that up? With a spectacular specimen of a country-style tart, like this one made by CookN.

Recipe from Maggie Beer

1 quantity Sour Cream Pastry

200g Chilled unsalted butter
250g Plain flour
125ml Sour cream

To make the pastry, dice the butter, then pulse with the flour in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and continue to pulse until the dough starts to incorporate into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Roll the chilled pastry out until 3 mm thick and cut to suit your chosen recipe.

Candied Cumquats

500ml Orange juice
440g Castor sugar
1kg Cumquats

Almond and Cumquat Filling

265g Almonds
1 tsp ground Cassia
1 tbsp Cumquat zest
40ml Brandy
125ml syrup from the Candied cumquats
Softened unsalted butter

Chocolate Glaze

175g Haigh’s bittersweet couverture chocolate
¼ cup Cream
50g unsalted Butter
1 ½ tbsp syrup from the Candied Cumquats
1 tbsp Brandy

To prepare the candied cumquats, bring the orange juice and castor sugar to a boil in a large non-reactive saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cumquats and bring the pan back to a boil. Simmer until the syrup is thick and the cumquats have collapsed and appear slightly translucent. Store the cumquats in the syrup in the refrigerator or seal in airtight jars.

Make and chill the pastry as instructed. Roll out the chilled pastry until about 3mm thick and line a loose-bottomed 22cm flat tin with it. Chill the pastry case in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the chilled pastry case with foil, then weight it with dried beans or pastry weights and blind bake it for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and return the pastry case to the oven for a further 10 minutes to ensure the pastry is crisp. Set the pastry case aside to cool. Leave the oven on.

To make the filling, roast the almonds on a baking tray for about 5 minutes, shaking the tray to prevent the nuts from burning. Allow to cool, then grind in a food processor.

Reduce the oven temperature to 175°C. Mix the ground almonds with the ground cassia and cumquat zest. Stir in the brandy, cumquat syrup and 120g softened unsalted butter. Pat the almond mixture into the pastry case and dot with a little more butter. Bake the tart for 30 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool to room temperature.

To make the glaze, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Roughly chop the couverture chocolate and put it into a mixing bowl with the remaining ingredients. Turn the heat off under the saucepan, but leave the pan in place. Stand the bowl over the pan and stir gently until the chocolate has melted and all the ingredients have combined. Allow to cool, then pour over the filling in the tart. Leave at room temperature to set.

Serve with candied cumquats alongside.

Couverture chocolate: Don’t be tempted to use anything other than couverture chocolate for the glaze on this wonderfully rich tart.

Six full bellies dragged themselves away from the table, and straight into bed!

What a way to celebrate 5 years of cooking, learning, experimenting, eating, thinking and dreaming food.