Saffron Milk Caps + Roast Beef + Witlof + Horseradish Cream

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's getting cooler in the mornings now and with that I begin to see the seasonal change in the fresh produce at our weekly visits to the markets.  I feel ready for the change, warmer, slower cooked food and a perfect excuse to spend more time beside a warm stove.  We have only had a few of these days so far this year, as we live in a south Mediterranean climate on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.

What caught my eye at the markets recently were the Lactarius Delicious Saffron Milk Caps (also known as pine mushrooms) as they grow beneath pine trees.  The pine forests on the outskirts of Sydney are where you will find passionate local foragers, as these wonderful gems are abundant at this time of year.  I haven't had the pleasure of a weekend in the forest as yet, fortunately I know a few people who sell their finds at the local markets.  These wild mushrooms are usually only available between February and May when the weather is conducive, so I make the most of them when I can.  Antonio Carluccio's Complete Mushroom Book the quiet hunt, is a good reference book which I have found most helpful.

They are different in flavour to the mushrooms that I used to pick in the cow paddocks as a child on cold misty Autumn mornings in New Zealand.  They are firm and nutty with the most vivid orange colour, hence the name Saffron.  I loved picking mushrooms with my father as a child.  It didn't  matter to me if it rained or was really cold.  There was always much to learn when picking mushrooms.

Initially, I had to overcome my fear of cows as they were rather intrigued with this little person carrying a bucket.  They had a habit of following behind you and when you turned around they would stop and on it would go, never getting close enough to do you any harm but none the less scaring you as they were so much bigger than yourself.   Then came the lessons on what to pick and why.  My father would draw my attention to the colour and texture even the smell of what we picked, making sure I knew how to distinguish the difference between edible and not.  It was always worth the effort though, getting up early in case someone got there before you.   I would arrive home fully ladened, cold and hungry ready to cook them for breakfast.

If picking your own is not something you can do, then the markets in Autumn are where you will find them, they are well worth the trip, once eaten never forgotten.

The recipe I'm sharing today is Roast Beef with Saffron Milk Caps cooked with butter, garlic and thyme, served with a red wine gravy, cauliflower puree and witlof.  I have used a different cut of beef this time, deciding instead to use a cut of beef that was very popular in the 1950's called a bolar blade.  It is more tender than most blade beef which makes it excellent for roasting.  This recipe serves 6.

We particularly like a nice big red wine like a Chateauneuf du Pape with this meal.

Roast Beef

1.5 kg bolar blade
1 tablespoon of duck fat

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees.

Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Heat the duck fat in a cast iron frying pan and brown the meat well on all sides, remove from the stove and place in the oven for 1½ hours.  Remove from the oven then place the meat on a plate and cover with parchment paper and foil set aside and allow to rest for 20 mins.  Set the pan aside and reserve the meat juices for the gravy.

Cauliflower Puree

1 large cauliflower
100 mls cream

In a large pan fill with 2 inches of water and put on a high heat cover with a lid, bring to the boil.  Wash the cauliflower removing outer leaves, cut into florets and place in the boiling water, add a teaspoon of salt, cover and cook for 20 minutes until tender.  Remove from the heat and drain in a colander then return the cauliflower to the saucepan.  Add cream and the knob of butter and with a stick blender process until smooth adding a little extra cream and butter as needed.  Season to taste.


6 witlof
50 grams of butter
300 mls of white wine

Remove any damaged outer leaves and cut in half length ways.  Heat the butter over a medium heat in a cast iron enamel frying pan.  Place the witlof cut side down until golden in colour then turn over and  add the white wine to the pan then cover with a lid.  Reduce the heat to low and allow to cook for 20 minutes until tender.  Remove from the heat and season to taste.

Saffron Milk Caps + Garlic + Thyme

500 grams saffron milk caps
2 cloves of garlic sliced
50 grams of butter
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed enough for 1 teaspoon
juice of half a lemon

I wash my mushrooms under running water top side only.  I do this to make sure the pine needles and any dirt that has fallen on them is removed.   I drain them well then dry them with a clean tea towel.  You may wish to use a damp cloth instead of washing them in water.  Clean and trim the stems and slice the mushrooms thinly and set aside.  Peel and thinly slice 2 cloves of garlic.  In a cast iron frying pan heat the butter over a medium heat,  add the garlic, thyme, a pinch of salt and stir making sure they don't burn for 1-2 minutes then add the mushrooms and stir gently, add the lemon juice continue cooking for a further 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Red Wine Gravy

meat juices from the pan
200 mls red wine
500 mls beef stock
1 knob of butter

Place the pan that the beef was cooked in on the stove over a high heat, add the red wine and stir well scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate the meat juices with wine.  Allow to reduce slightly and for the alcohol to evaporate then lower the heat to medium before adding the beef stock, allow the gravy to reduce to a consistency you prefer then add the butter and stir to combine.  Strain the gravy into a heat proof jug and set aside keeping it warm until ready to serve.

Horseradish Cream

200 mls creme fraiche or sour cream
1 horseradish root

Place the creme fraiche or sour cream in a small mixing bowl.  Peel the horseradish root and finely grate 1-2 tablespoons, ideally with a micro planer, then add to the creme fraiche or sour cream.  Add a little salt and more or less grated horseradish depending upon how hot you like it.


For my mother's love

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I suppose it was a natural progression to go from the garden with my father, to the kitchen with my mother. Eating things raw in the garden was one thing however putting the produce together for a meal was another.

My mother was an intuitive cook, so you had to watch her carefully if you wanted to learn anything.  I was fascinated at how she never measured anything.  She just knew how much to add to things she was making to get the texture just right.  I remember thinking I'm never going to be able to do that and would constantly ask questions as I watched her work.  Nothing showed off her skill better than a batch of scones.

We always had visitors popping in for morning tea unexpectedly so scones were a clear favourite.  It didn't matter if it was a last minute arrangement or not, the oven would be turned on and mum would get to work quickly putting ingredients into a mixing bowl, rubbing the butter ever so lightly only using the very tips of her fingers as it is important not to over work the dough.  Milk was then added and a butter knife was used with skill to bring the dough together.

Before you knew it the dough was on a floured bench being carefully rolled out then cut into squares with the same butter knife.  They were handled with care as if they were hot to touch as the more you work the mix the tougher it becomes.  The aim is light and airy. A milk wash was brushed on then straight into the oven they went.  Cleaning up took place with the same speed so by the time the scones were cooked the table for morning tea was set, home made jam would come out of the pantry, there was always more than one variety.  I preferred the plum jam because of its tartness.  The cream was whipped, the kettle on and the tea pot warmed.  It was an exercise conducted with military precision.  Scones would come out of the oven and placed in a basket with a linen tea towel lightly covering them to keep them warm.

Let's face it, having a young person under your feet asking questions incessantly is not always convenient although she did appreciate my help.  I remember she was particular about how things had to be done.  The vegetables had to be cut and stirred a certain way.  I was allowed to do specific tasks and they had to be done exactly her way otherwise she would do it herself.

There was none of this standing on a stool with a shower of flour, coco and sugar everywhere while I wielded a wooden spoon with batter all over my face, which was frustrating as I was young and impatient and this was exactly what I wanted to do.  You can forget eating raw cake mixture or licking the bowl, that was out of the question as,

"it is dangerous to eat raw egg," or "you will spoil your appetite for dinner," she would say.

I so badly wanted to try it, but before there was a chance it was placed in the sink and rinsed out.  This was another habit of my mother's that took a bit of getting used to, namely cleaning up as she went so that by the time you had finished cooking you had hardly any tidying up to do at all.  I was eager to learn.  You want to touch and taste everything but neither were allowed before we sat down to eat.  These were the rules and we, my brother, sister and I abided by them.

As much as I found these habits frustrating I came to appreciate her methods and much later I find myself doing things in exactly the same way.  What I find so interesting is that I now have a child of my own with him wanting to learn to cook.  Apparently I am just like my mother, actually worse, she told me recently.  In spite of this it never put us off nor has it stopped my son from mastering the ability to cook.

There was method in her madness as at a very young age we all became competent cooks.  It was only natural that we learnt to cook the things we liked most.  Mine was desserts which meant I took care of one course entirely.   A clear favourite of mine was cheesecake and lemon meringue pie.  My sister loved to bake, she was very good at it and still is.  I have fond memories of her poppyseed cake with lemon icing.  My brother was younger than both of us however he managed to make his favourite banana cake also iced with lemon icing.  He is a good cook and to this day a really good baker.  We always felt rather special when called upon to make the recipes that we had practised.  We entertained often and became confident cooking for others at an early age.

It is nice to take time occasionally and remember our mothers and what we learnt from them.  To this day my friends know that they can always pop in for tea, I suppose that this is something else I have my mother to thank for.

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