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Baked Bacon for perfect crispiness

30 Dec

Bacon is one of those fickle things, we know we all love crispy bacon but for most of us it seems to be hit an miss. Is it something to do with the heat of the pan, the  type of bacon, when you put it in or how much oil you use? It seems however that the trick, and stop reading here if you get crispy bacon all the time, is the way it’s cooked.

Forget the pan or the microwave – did you really think the microwave would work? The trick is to bake it. Now before you think that’s too hard it’s really not. Pre-heat the oven to about 180C, throw down some baking paper to reduce the clean up mess, save your oil and just bake the bacon for about 2omin. In just 20min I had the perfect bacon for me. The rind was nicely crispy, the meat was still a little tender and the fat all but drained off after a single turn.

Back by popular demand is another time-series photoshoot of the bacon cooking. Give it a shot, it’s really quite simple. And the best bit is it free’s the fry-pan up for the eggs so you get both cooked perfect and served hot with minimal fuss.

Baked Bacon

Bake your bacon for the perfect crispiness!


Roasting a frozen chicken in a slow cooker

16 Dec

We all love a roast chicken. The smell as it’s cooking, the tasty skin and the juicy stuffing all come together to provide something truly amazing. However, the cost vs effort of picking up a roast chicken from a shop means we rarely roast one up at home! Which is a shame because there’s so many different ways to roast a chicken with different stuffings. Also when you cook you own to can select your chicken and make sure it’s really a free-range grass fed   organic chicken.

So this experiment was inspired by a colleague at work who told me how he’ll put a frozen chicken in his slow cooker in the morning and come home to nicely roasted chook! It sounded both simple and novel so I had to give it a shot. Admittedly I was a little dubious mainly because I thought the slow cookers needed liquid up around the element to work effectively….

The recipie was quite simple.

  1. Get one whole frozen chicken
  2. Put some aluminium foil or upside down tray at the botom of the slow cooker to let the juices run away
  3. Turn it on low for 8-10hrs or high for 4hrs (I chose the low option).

Below are the results over the 9hrs it was cooking for.

9hrs from frozen solid to nicely roasted.

9hrs from frozen solid to nicely roasted.

One concern was will the slow cooker be able to heat up the internal temperature of the chicken to a safe level. According to the US Food Safety site the min safe temp for a chicken is 165 F (75C). To track this I kept an eye on the air temp inside the slow cooker then the internal temp of the chicken after about 8 hours. After the first 3 hrs the chicken must have thawed because the air temp moved up from about 75C to 100C and stayed there. After 8 hrs the internal temp of the chicken reached 86c and therefore fine.

Checking the internal temp of the slow cooked roast chicken.

Checking the internal temp of the slow cooked roast chicken.

You can see from the above that the color really didn’t kick in till the last 2 hours or so. Up until that point the chicken thawed, sweated, started to crisp up around less meaty sections and then finally browned up.

The main downside to using a frozen chicken is that you can’t stuff it. I love my stuffing so I’ve got 2 choices – go without, or stuff it before freezing. The later though obviously introduces some contamination risk so you’d need to be careful.

Roast Chicken plated up.

Roast Chicken plated up.

All up the chicken was super easy to to roast up and tasted pretty good. Another technique for the slow cooker.

John Farnham, Radish and Cooking?!

19 Aug

Sadly I was a John Farham fan as a kid. By kid I mean 10 years old or so and it was probably influenced by my parents. I remember vaguely going to a John Farham concert and I fell asleep on the grass mid-way through only for my excited parents to wake me up when “(take the) Pressure down” started up. I think I bounced up, listened to the song then went back to sleep.

Most geeks would disown me for that, and apart from the grass I fell asleep on there isn’t much gardening, so i’ll need to link this anecdote back to cooking somehow. 🙂

Yesterday I had a bit of Japanese day in the kitchen. Vegetable stuffed beef rolls for lunch then Terikyaki chicken and dashi flavoured pumpkin for dinner. While I was shopping for some of the ingredients I picked up a huge white radish aka Daikon for $2, it was such a bargin it was one of those moments where you buy the odd ingredient and challenge yourself to cook with it. So to tie John Farhnam, cooking and Daikon together continue:

Daikon, like most radishes, seem to be most suitable to salads. In my travels I came across this Tuna, Blacked peas and Radish salad and decided to knock it up with some pork cutlets. I only had some dried black-eyed peas and not alot of time to soak them overnight. So again, back to Dr Google and I found this interesting piece. All I needed to do was soak them for a few hours then simmer for 1 – 1 1/2 hours. That’ll hit my 7pm dinner deadline easy. But the amazing thing is the table towards the bottom of the page.

Soaked beans – simmer for 1 – 1 1/2 hrs OR use a pressure cooker for 5 – 8 min

5 – 8 min – are you kidding me! That’s super fast. You can tell i’ve never used a pressure cooker but with type of time savings I’m pretty tempted to.

Is that right? Does a pressure cooker really do the same job in a tiny tiny fraction of the time. If you’ve used

Wild Edibles

28 Apr

I’ve been watching Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall a bit lately and he seriously appeals to me on many levels. There’s the simple back to basics cooking, his pragmatic approach to smallholding and the basic approach to start from little and building up a sustainable home. However, it’s his stingyness that has got my attention. A common theme in his TV shows is making a scrumptious meal from free ingredients. Sometimes these ingredients are wild plants such as wild garlic, nettles and dandelions. And some are wild animals such as river eel (caught in a trap with some road-kill bait), wild pigeon or deer.

Living in Sydney I dont have much of an opportunity to shoot wild deer and I’m 100% positive I’m not going to eat any urban pigeon even if I could catch them so that leaves me with wild plants. Over the last few weeks I’ve been doing some research into wild edibles, ranging from native bush foods to non-indigenous edible weeds, that’ll no doubt be a focus of a few blogs, but for now I wanted to a) highlight a few people that are doing great things in this space and b) ask the question from my readers what / how / why they seek out wild edibles.

So objective A.

I’ve come across 2 folk that are doing great things promoting wild edibles. One in Melbourne one in Sydney.

In Melbourne there is Doris Pozzi who was recently written up in the Melbourne’s Age. She has written a book that I’ve got on order that highlights the top 25 edible weeds in Melbourne but are equally relevant to the other regions of Australia. She also runs a great web site “Edible Weeds” with interesting facts and information that will help the novice forager on their journey.

The person in Sydney was given to me by Doris. Diego Bonetto (Twitter @theweedone) and while I’ve only just started digesting his information on the Weedy Connections website I’m amazed at the incredible Weeds database he has pulled together. Sort by location and get information on all the weeds in your area. He has details on the medicinal uses and culinary potential as well as some great botanical information. Well worth the look.

Both Diego and Doris run foraging tours in Sydney and Melbourne respectively. I’m going to try and get to one if not both as soon as possible.

And now for objective B. Do you use wild food? How have you experimented and used wild food? Wild food to me range from the common nasturtium and dandelions to the more exotic and rare. I’ve tried a few times now to harness the delectable aroma of the monstera deliciosa as a sumplement to my fruit bowl but haven’t yet nailed it. I’ve also started collecting dandelions to make a dandelion marmalade.

Would love to hear your stories!

When are egg’s like witches?

16 Mar

If you are like my family and end up with ageing egg’s in the fridge then this <probably very well known> trick will help. We end up with ageing egg’s for a number of reasons, not always because we don’t eat them fast enough, sometimes because both my wife and I will have a hankering for eggs and within a day of each other buy a carton or 2.

So what do ageing egg’s and witches have in common? In the not-so-distant past people charged with being a witch were thrown into the local river with stones tied around them. For the poor souls that sunk and drowned they were given a proper burial and a big apology. However, witches, apparently because they are made of wood, would float in the river, in which case they were hauled out and burnt at the stake. Rough deal either way in my opinion and a cynic might suggest it was nothing more than a land grab. “Hey I saw my neighbour talking to cat – She’s a witch”, “Good job, either way you can have her land now”.

Floating EggsBut egg’s? Well, if they if act like a witch and float then they are obviously no good. I’m not suggesting you cook them up on some steak (yeah bad pun I know) but I’d certainly throw them out. They are off and will probably make you sick – more on that in a tick.

If egg’s sink then they are all good. And rather than give them an apology I’ll fry, boil, poach or otherwise scramble them! Maybe with some thyme or paprika to cleanse their soul.

My understanding of why this happens is quite simple. Egg shell’s are permeable, meaning they let air and out albeit quite slowly. An egg that has been in your fridge for too long will have absorbed enough air to both make it float but also send the insides off and should be discarded.

Floating EggsThe last time I put this test to the test I had my camera and for me it’s the photo’s rather than the story / science / witch-folklore that is interesting.

How else can you tell an egg is off? Love to hear any other tricks you use!

Chicken Cacciatore

14 Mar

Since the birth of 2nd child and daughter I’ve been looking for recipies to cook enmasse so I can freeze them up and eat during the week. Something that popped up was Chicken Cacciatore. I’m not going to go into a blow by blow of how to cook it (there’s a fair few of those already) but wanted to share an interesting tidbit.

Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. This is a throw back to the fact that this meal is a hunter’s meal in that they grabbed whatever meat they had (chicken/fowl for instance), threw in any handy vegatables or herbs and cooked it up. Slow cooked if it was a gamey meat and with some wine given they are Italian, my sort of meal.

What’s also interesting is that the type of wine used depends on the region of Italy. White in the north and red in the south.

For this dish I’ve used a “liberal” dash of red wine, home grown fresh rosemary, home grown fresh bay leaves (yeah I know, a little French) and some dried oregano. Vegetables include carrots, celery, onion and garlic. All served up with some rice….did the Italian’s use rice? How else have you cooked up this Italian stew?

Home-minced home-made pork, sage & garlic sausages

7 Jan

Last year something inspired me to make my own sausages. Subliminally I might have been influenced by the NIB summer commercial “I love sausages” however I’m sure it was just part of my learn to cook and be self-sufficient craze. In any case, and despite many raised eyebrows from friends and family, I eventually bought the “Dakotah Sausage Stuffer“, a 4kg water-powered meat pushing beast of a unit (and a massive space filler in the kitchen cupboards).

It took me a few attempts to get the technique sorted and buying the right parts (hoses, nozzle attachments etc). The most recent acquisition to make my sausage making experience easier was a mincer. Up until now I’ve used a food processor that just didn’t chop the meat fine enough, ending up with largish chunks of fat in the sausages, not a key feature found in the worlds best sausages, so the mincer was on the Christmas list. I scored a Chef Avenue Wonder Mincer ($49 from King of Knives).

I decided to go with a simple recipe to start with, the old favourite Pork and Sage, and because there’s nothing garlic doesn’t go with I added garlic. On the left you can see that there’s also some beef and beef fat. A lesson learnt (and researched) is you need to have about 30% fat. That seems a lot but being dry doesn’t make the top 10 best sausage feature list! I didn’t end up using the beef fat as the pork fat was enough.

Once I had all the ingredients ready I chopped up 10g of sage, crushed up 25g of rock salt, 3 cloves of garlic and trimmed the fat off the 1.3kg of pork so I could measure the fat ratio (ended up with approx 400g of fat which is 31% of total meat).

Next step was to mince the meat in my brand new mincer. There was a little apprehension that the cogs were plastic and I really had no idea how hard it was going to be. Surprisingly it was very very easy. The cogs work so there’s really very little pressure required. The trick however was to ensure the bits of meat were small enough to fall into the spiral pusher-thingamajigit, too big and they got caught and needed to break before continuing towards the blades.

I added the salt / sage / garlic mixture to the mincer but in hindsight I’ll just mix it in by hand because I lost too much inside the mixer.

Once mixed through I shoved the mixture into the 4kg water-powered sausage stuffer, attached the nozzles, slid on the sausage casings (I’ve used natural collagen casings) and powered the beast up. With minimal effort out spat my snags (image on left). Using my yet to mastered skills of turning the sausages (alternate clockwise / anti-clockwise) I ended up with something resembling sausages you might buy from your local butcher! (image on right)

All up it took me about 2 hours to prepare, mince, make and cook the bangers however you definetly get economies of scale the mince you create.

To re-cap the ingredients I had:

  • 1.274kg Pork including ~400g fat
  • 10g Sage (home-grown)
  • 25g rock salt
  • 3 cloves of garlic

Total cost $18 keeping in mind that I know exactly what’s in these snags. I could buffer it out somewhat by adding bread or other fillers but for the time being I’m happy with pure meat snags!

What did they taste like? Best I’ve done so far I’d say. Perhaps a little salty and a lot of fat rendered in the fry-pan so I could probably cut back on both those. Experimenting and learning is most of the fun!

What do you think? Would you spend the time with home-made sausages or do you trust your local butcher to use quality ingredients.