Monday 24 June 2013

Champagne and Sparkles in the Southern Highlands

I went on a girls' weekend, scandalous! Off to Roberston in the New South Wales Southern Highlands with a great bunch of girls, some I knew well and others not at all.  I hadn't been on girls' weekend in a long time; it was tricky to work out the last time, a clear indication it had been too long. It was nine years ago, nine years! We were living in Scotland and had come back to Sydney for Christmas, and it wasn't really a weekend, it was an overnight in a hotel, in Double Bay. My husband, eschewing the easy option of staying with his mother, decided to fly up to Queensland with the kids to visit his sister and the "worlds". I felt nauseous sending my whole world off on a plane without me, maybe goes some way to explaining the nine years... 

Anyway, the Southern Highlands, I love them! We arrived after dark, battling the fog, to a crackling fire and glass of champagne. Sounds sophisticated and truly was until I discovered my bottle of fish sauce leaking in the boot of the gorgeous Annie's car. OMFG; blotting, pine-o-clean, bicarb, hosing, almost 2 weeks and there is still an aroma, it's a friendship tester... The fog lifted overnight and the view was stunning; fields, dams and trees with a few fluffy clouds over the ocean. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would love this place; the cows, chickens and the most amazing fruit and vegetable garden. We picked herbs and broccoli and ate tomatoes off the vine, warm from the morning sun, less than a week out from winter. 

I get the lure of the tree change. Bowral is a lovely town; the local produce is excellent, the cafes great, there's a well stocked kitchenware shop and I satisfied the need to search out vintage crockery. The fabulously named Dirty Janes Antique Market was such a surprise, an enormous warehouse packed with independant dealers selling all things vintage; can't believe I only bought plates, there was this amazing metal bed... 

We didn't test out any of the restaurants but ate dinner at the house; I cooked with Fiona who just happens to be a chef! How cool is that? As a self taught cook who is more than slightly paranoid about poisoning people, it is fantastic to have someone who knows their stuff tell you when you are being ridiculous! We had lots of help from the champagne sipping chicks, I don't think I've ever cooked for twelve and felt less stressed! Some of images below are mine, the others taken by the ever generous Nikki Magill who even patiently snapped the food photos in atrocious light, balanced on a stool after a few champagnes and a rowdy, lengthy game of celebrity head! Thanks girls for a great weekend and huge thanks to Penny for sharing your family home, such a privilege. 

It wouldn't feel right if I went away for a weekend without baking; I took macarons...

Vanilla Macarons with Pistachio Buttercream

For the shells follow this recipe for pistachio macarons, replacing the pistachios with 105g almond meal (ground almonds). The pistachio buttercream is adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe for pistachio macroons in the baking bible How to be a Domestic Goddess (internal cringe at the macaroon word, I am such a macaron snob)

pistachio buttercream

75g shelled pistachios

250g icing sugar
125g unsalted butter, softened
25ml milk

grind the nuts in a food processor with the icing sugar, no need to sieve  tip the nut mixture into a largish bowl, add the softened butter and cream together until soft and fluffy, you may need to add a little milk to soften the mixture

Braised Beef with Hot and Sour Salad

This recipe calls for beef shin, I can't honestly tell you which cut of beef I used, it wasn't shin. My butcher cut a piece that looked like a fillet, the words "blade" and "top side" were definitely mentioned... You need a cut that will be soft after slow cooking but hold together well enough to slice... The recipe is adapted from the Longrain cookbook, Modern Thai Food by Martin Boetz and can also be found in The Accidental Foodie by Neale Whitaker.

braised beef

200g piece of beef shin

1 tbsp thick sweet soy sauce (kecap manis)
100ml vegetable oil
5 cloves garlic, peeled
4cm piece ginger, peeled
1 coriander root, scraped and cleaned
small red onion
100ml Chinese rice wine
50g rock candy (or 2 tbsp sugar)
50 ml oyster sauce
500ml chicken stock
2 small cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
50ml Chinese black vinegar
1 tsp sea salt

rub the thick sweet soy all over the beef 
 heat a little of the oil in a pan and sear the beef on all sides to seal  place the beef in a deep braising pan, I used a cast iron casserole dish

in a mortar and pestle pound the garlic, ginger, coriander root and onion to a paste, it takes some bashing, I have used a food processor for this step 
 heat a couple of tablespoons of the oil in a heavy based pan and fry the onion paste until golden brown  pour off any excess oil and deglaze with the rice wine  add the rock candy, oyster sauce, chicken stock, cinnamon sticks and star anise  bring to boil, skimming off the scum (nice!)  pour over the beef, cover with baking paper and a lid then braise on the stove for 11/2 or until the meat is soft...

remove the meat, cover and set aside 
 strain the liquid and boil hard to reduce by a third  add the vinegar and salt, it should taste rich and meaty

cut the beef into 1cm slices and reheat in the braising liquid 
 place the sliced beef in a bowl, pour over the braising liquid and top with the hot and sour salad and any left over dressing  serve with steamed rice

hot and sour salad

50 ml lime juice

1/2 tsp red chilli powder
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 green bird's eye chillies, finely sliced
1 cup coriander leaves
1 cup mint leaves
2 spring onions, finely shredded
1 red eschallot, peeled and finley sliced
1 large mild red chilli, seeded and finely sliced

combine the lime juice, chilli powder, fish sauce and chillies, the dressing should taste very hot and sour 
 in a stainless steel or glass bowl toss the remaining ingredients together  wait until you are ready to serve before dressing the salad

Steamed Raspberry Puddings with Vanilla Creme Anglaise

An absolute favourite in my house, this recipe is adapted from Christine Manfield's Paramount Desserts, the most dog eared, bookmarked cookbook in my extensive, colour coordiated collection..! 

raspberry sauce

500g raspberries, fresh or frozen

60g caster sugar
60ml water
1 tsp fresh lemon juice, strained

put the caster sugar and water in a small pan, stir to dissolve sugar over a gentle heat 
 increase heat and simmer for 5 mins  in a food processor, puree 250g of the raspberries with the lemon juice and sugar syrup until smooth  strain the sauce through a fine sieve and keep in the fridge until ready to use

sponge puddings

250g raspberries, fresh or frozen

3 large eggs at room temperature, separated
100g caster sugar
1/2 vanilla bean or 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste
20 butter, melted
150ml buttermilk at room temperature
190g self-raising flour, sifted
1/2 tsp baking powder

preheat the oven to 180┬║C 
 butter and sugar 6 x 200ml pudding moulds then divide the raspberries between the moulds  whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks  in another bowl whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy  scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the egg yolk/sugar combo (or simply add the vanilla paste) then stir in the melted butter and butter milk  gently mix in the sifted four and baking powder, then fold in the egg whites  spoon the batter into the moulds  stand the moulds in a baking tray then fill the tray to 2/3 way up the moulds with boiling water  cover the whole thing with a sheet of lightly buttered foil and bake in the centre of the oven for 30mins, rotating the tray after 15mins 

remove puddings from oven and leave to sit for 5 minutes, cross your fingers and turn the puddings put into serving bowls 
 if puddings are reluctant to budge and you have asbestos fingers, gently ease the pudding away from the side of the mould or alternatively run a knife around the edge

in a small saucepan gently reheat the raspberry sauce with the remaining 250g raspberries 
 pour warm sauce over the puddings and serve with hot creme anglaise

creme anglaise

250ml milk

500ml cream (35% fat, well we were celebrating!)
1 vanilla bean, split
8 egg yolks (again, celebrating...)
150g caster sugar

bring the milk, cream and vanilla to a simmer in a medium saucepan over a low heat

whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy then whisk in hot milk/cream combo 
 stand the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until the anglaise thickens and coats the back of the spoon (this stage takes me ages as I am nervous about scrambling the egg yolks, my super experienced pastry chef buddy would have done this in a pan over direct heat *shudder*)

sieve into a clean bowl or jug, discarding the vanilla bean, and serve immediately 
 if you are making this in advance then cover with plastic film pressed onto the surface of the creme anglaise and store in the fridge  gently reheat in a bowl over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave or a pan over direct heat if you like to live dangerously!

Thanks for stopping by! I'd love to hear from you, there's a "comments" section below...


Nikki Magill said...

I completely agree that it was a scrumptious weekend away for so many reasons. Such amazing company, divine location and incredible food thanks to you Sally. We all felt so spoilt to have you as our chef and CEO of all things delicious! Nikki

Belinda Yeo said...

Gorgeous photos and mouthwatering food, looks like a great weekend!

simmer and boyle said...

Thanks Bin, it really was a great weekend, need to do it more often :)

simmer and boyle said...

Let's lock in the anniversary jaunt :)