Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Asian Roast Duck (made with a kick-arse Masterstock)

I will say upfront that I "borrowed" (and modified, slightly) Red Spice Road's wonderful recipe for roast duck (page 117, "The Red Spice Road Cookbook - an experience in Cooking South-East Asian Food", by John McLeay). Therefore, I feel justified in blogging about it and sharing the recipe with my readers. Also, I've previously raved about RSR's amazing menu and bar so, free advertising can't be a bad thing.

To prepare any self respecting asian duck dish you'll first need a good masterstock, to simmer the duck in. The key to a getting it right is achieving the right balance of flavours: sweet/salty, a touch of acid, rich, and with complex undertones - citrus? caramel? aniseed? It's not exactly rocket science but remember that once it's simmered down from the original mixture you'll end up with something earthier and more intense.

Once your masterstock is simmered and flavoured to perfection (and strained), bring it to the boil in a big pot and place a whole duck inside; simmer for 15 minutes. You might need to "weight" it to ensure the whole bird remains immersed - I used a large pot and put the steamer basket over the top, then shut the heavy glass lid and it worked fine. If using smaller portions of duck (or chicken), simmer for only 5 minutes or so. Place on a rack in a baking dish and bake in a 200C oven for 50 minutes. Alternatively, RSR's suggestion is to cut large chunks of carrot and place in the bottom of the baking dish, the benefit being that you get lovely roasted sweet carrot as a side dish at the end.

Masterstock (a variation on Red Spice Road's recipe):

- 3 litres of water
- 500ml white wine
- 100ml rice wine vinegar (this and the white wine was my substitute for "shao xhing" wine)
- 100ml light soy sauce
- 100ml Ketjap Manis (sweet soy)
- 250g dark brown (muscovado) sugar
- 5 cloves roughly chopped garlic
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3 cloves
- 6 star anise
- 4 cardamom pods
- 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 1tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- peel from one large fresh orange

Put all ingredients into a large pot and bring to the boil; reduce heat and simmer for half an hour. Taste, adjust seasoning if needed (salt/pepper/sugar). Cool, then strain. Can be frozen for later use, and re-used again and again, as long as it's strained after each use.

This duck is wonderful served with plain rice - I made coconut rice which soaked up the juices nicely. Accompany with some chilli oil for heaven on a plate.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mystery Bay

Having spent the last several Christmasses with my side of the family, this year it was my husband's family's turn. And what a celebration! We headed up the coast with T's parents, aunty and uncle, a cousin as well as sister, brother in law, niece and nephew - all of us congregating at a farm stay near the beach, with amazing views all around.  T and I were even lucky enough to score our own lovely cabin - look what I woke up to Christmas morning:

Christmas Day turned out to be a low key but fresh and delicious occasion, made all the more special by spending quality time with my in laws, going on walks, fishing, sailing, barbecuing, or just hanging about chatting.  The entire stay was very relaxing with lots of great activities available nearby, most of the focus being on the beach and lakes - all within walking distance from our accommodation - and the weather was also quite kind to us.  I even managed to book in an amazing (and very reasonably priced) massage from the lovely J, one of the managers of the property.  It was wonderful observing T's family interactions too:  they all live quite some distance from each other, either interstate or overseas; but they are a close family nonetheless.

Before I set off for Mystery Bay, my mum gave me two of her homemade puddings as a Christmas contribution. They were devoured by us all, along with my father in law's home made custard, mum in law's many cakes and slices, and a bottle of ice-magic.  My sister in law (who lives in Sweden and is generally very healthy and a sensible eater) is totally obsessed with the stuff; whenever she visits Australia she indulges her sweet tooth as it cannot be bought in Europe.  Note the excessive amount of chocolate and token slice of pudding accompanying the huge bowl of vanilla ice cream.  Impressive!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Not buying into "Christmas Craziness"

I promised myself I wouldn't go on a sanctimonious rant on my food blog about rampant Christmas commercialism and consumerism.  About how it turns normally good and level-headed folk into shopping centre car park road-rage enthusiasts.  Normally "green-minded" people suddenly and inexplicably become plasticky present wielders, bearing gifts containing palm oil and non-free trade cocoa.  I myself can't claim higher moral ground; I too have been sucked in by the bright lights of Chaddy and the Myer Christmas windows, swiping my credit card again and again like some rich heiress to the point where the magnetic strip practically disintegrates.  Christmas these days seems to be on steroids - or, well, crack.

I ... promised ... myself ... I ... Oh to hell with it, it's my blog.

In case you hadn't figured by now, Christmas also tends to put me in a grumpy state of mind.  But before you accuse me of being a grinch there are some fairly understandable (I think) reasons for this, one of the main ones being that it serves as a painful reminder of my inability to have children, and the several years worth of countless (and fruitless) tests and procedures to find out why.  December can be such a confronting month; excited parents throw Christmas parties where young kids congregate and mothers compare notes about where to find the most child-friendly restaurants.  Dozens of little smiling faces line up excitedly in streets and shopping centres to see "Santa".  Nowhere is sacred - Facebook and Twitter: "I just spent way too much on my children's presents!" and "wow I can't believe this time next Christmas I'll have a 6 month old!" and "I'm thinking about giving my kids away as gifts this year, I've had enough of them!"  My way of coping is to just generally get on with things and pretend it's not Christmas at all.

In the lead up to this year's festive season, I decided to give the following gifts to myself (and those around me):

  • To not buy into Christmas Craziness 
  • To treat myself to things I wouldn't normally
  • To enjoy my challenging and busy career (and to stop apologising for it)
  • To spend time with people who make me feel good
  • To forget about making babies for a while and appreciate the home and family (and cats) I already have
  • To take good care of my mind and body
  • To give home made goods as gifts 
On the last point, today I made up numerous little goodie boxes containing a variety of baked sweets using Chinese take-away containers (purchased for two bucks per four boxes from my local "cheapy" shop).  All up I think each gift works out to about $1.50 each - but the contents are hand-made by yours truly and each one is personalised with a little note inside to the recipient.  I'm feeling better already.  :-)