Chocolate & Spice

chocolate, spice and the other pleasures in life

Friday, November 10, 2006

One Day in the Life of a Domestic Goddess (wannabe)

Apple chips from The Nut Spot

Today is yet another day I thank my lucky stars that I had this opportunity to take time off from the neverending whirl of working life. My time being my own nowadays, a lot of it is spent in the kitchen getting reacquainted with my old lost cooking skills….and as friends now like to note, living out my (secret) fantasy of being a domestic goddess. It's mid afternoon now as I write this, with a bowl of fresh apple chips from The Nut Shot for company, while my ragu sauce bubbles gently away on the stove. What ragu sauce you ask? Well, the ragu sauce I made from scratch just this morning.

In my past hectic life (soon to resume in a not-too-distant January), our fridge used to be a barren landscape of stale bread, milk, an assortment of unexciting jams, butter flecked with bread crumbs, the odd egg or two and usually the remnants of some manky bananas A intended to finish but plain forgot. Packets of frozen vegetables and occasionally, an unidentifiable mess from the back of the freezer complete the picture of our disorganised fridge. I'd throw everything out and troop to the supermarket with best intentions to ensure that both of us enjoy some proper nourishment. The cycle repeats itself every couple of months until I'm reduced to just buying essentials for 1 or 2 home-cooked meals on weekends, and throwing any remaining herbs, vegetable scraps away.

I recall numerous times when I'd open the door and survey the debris inside and despair of the day when I would find the time to ensure that my fridge would always be adequately stocked with pristinely organized foodstuff and fresh produce. Like any woman and her dream wedding, I have a dream fridge. Amongst all the usual fresh produce like eggs, meat, vegetables and fruits, my dream fridge would also have huge compartments to store my condiments, jams and preserves and contain tubs of frozen ragu sauce (for an instant meal), freshly made chicken stock, ice-cubes of frozen herbs (instead of the green sludge mouldering in the vegetable compartment), homemade cookies and cakes to snack on, lots of fresh fruit and bread.


Some of the new additions to my fridge from our recent trip down the Great Ocean
Road - Sourdough (L) and Scottish malt bread (R) from Cobb's Old Style Bakery in Port
Fairy and Watermelon, Lemon & Orange Jam from a market stall in Apollo Bay's farmers' market

Today sees the culmination of several weeks of organized behaviour on my part. Coming across artisanal fresh bread on our last day in Port Fairy (one stop in our trip to the Great Ocean Road), I promptly purchase 2 fat loaves of sourdough and Scottish malt bread from Cobb's Old Style Bakery. A day before that, I'd spotted jars of watermelon, lemon and orange honey jam (an unusual but yummy combination) using fresh honey from a local producer and bought a couple as well. And today, I finally set aside the whole day to make ragu and freeze all my excess herbs. So save for freshly made chicken stock, my fridge is now beginning to resemble my vision of a dream fridge.

For a while, I'd procrastinated on making ragu although it's actually a very simple exercise, as I had an idea that the preparation time involved would simply kill me. However, I'm faced with a leftover ½ bottle of wine (too old to drink), celery and carrots fast approaching its use-by date and decide to bite the bullet. Getting started, it's definitely quite tedious preparing all the ingredients (especially mincing the carrots!!) but once it's on the stove and simmering away, you have 4 hours of uninterrupted bliss.
My ragu recipe combines the best bits of 2 recipes – one from a lawyer friend who apprenticed as a chef on his year out from practice (and does indeed cook some spectacular meals!) and the other from Delia Smith.

Definitely set aside a whole day without interruptions for making ragu. After simmering gently for 4 hours, it's mid to late afternoon if you start first thing in the morning and the ragu has to cool completely before you divide it into separate bags for freezing.

My Ragu Bolognese
(Makes approximately 8 x 225g portions, each portion serving 2 people)

Ingredients:

550g minced beef (I prefer topside mince to lean meat for the extra flavoursome fat)
450g minced pork
225g chicken livers (deveined, green bits cut out and finely chopped)
3 medium-sized white onions, finely diced
8 fat garlic close, chopped
2 carrots, finely diced
2 sticks of celery (fibrous skin removed with a peeler and finely diced)
100g streaky bacon (finely chopped)
2 x 400g tins Italian chopped/whole tomatoes
400g tomato puree/paste
375ml (or ½ bottle) red wine (I used Australian shiraz for its rich and fruity overtones)
Fresh basil, as much as you'd like
3-5 bay leaves
¾ - 1 whole nutmeg, freshly grated
Sea salt and freshly milled black pepper

Method:

(1) Mix the minced meats with 1/3 cup of olive oil, 3 cloves of the chopped garlic and lots of freshly milled black pepper and leave aside while you prepare the rest of the other ingredients.

(2) Take the largest frying pan you have and heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over high heat. Add the minced meat and brown it, breaking it up and moving it around in the pan. It is probably more manageable if you add the meat a little at a time. When the meat is browned, tip it into a standing flameproof casserole with at least a 3.5l capacity**.

(3) Add more oil and brown the pieces of chicken liver. Add this to the casserole.

(4) Gently fry the onion and remaining garlic over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, moving it around from time to time. When the onion and garlic have softened and turned slightly translucent (about 10 minutes on medium heat), add the bacon and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes.

(5) Now add the diced carrot and celery and fry till soft. If using the casserole, tip all this into the casserole.

(6) Add the contents of the tins of tomatoes, the tomato paste/puree, red wine and a really good seasoning of pepper and nutmeg but no salt yet. Allow this to come up to simmering point. Then strip the leaves from the basil, chop them very finely and add them to the pot.

(7) As soon as everything is simmering, place the casserole on the centre shelf of the oven and leave it to cook slowly, without a lid, for 4 hours. It's a good idea to have a look after 3 hours to make sure all is well, but what you should end up with is a thick concentrated sauce with only a trace of liquid left in it. Once done, remove it from the oven, add a generous scattering of salt, taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary. Strip the leaves off the remaining basil, slice finely and stir them in.

** You can also make do with a large heavy-bottomed pot over the stove. At step 4, fry the onion and garlic in the pot instead, and continue the rest of the recipe, except that the meat should be tipped into the pot at step 5 before adding the rest of the ingredients.

Some comments:

I prefer not to salt dishes early on in the cooking process so that I can taste the final flavours to determine how much salt is really required. Heart-smart move! Also, the original Delia Smith recipe called for just ½ whole nutmeg to be grated but with the increased quantities of meat and sauce in this recipe, I increased the amount of nutmeg in proportion.

Starting off with all the prepped ingredients


Setting the ragu to simmer for 4 hours

Midway through the 4 hours simmering process

The end result!

Where I shopped:

The Nut Spot

1c Murphy Street
South Yarra Melbourne
Tel: 9820 9994

Well-stocked with all kinds of nuts, dried fruits and fruit chips. I am glad I don't have to walk miles to get pistachios or walnuts for cakes now!

Cobb's Old Style Bakery

25 Bank Street
Port Fairy, Victoria
Tel: (03) 5568 1713

For a magnificent sticky-sweet Scottish malt loaf and lots of old-fashioned pasties and cakes made the way your grandma does hers.

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