Emerging from the employment wilderness. With a five spice beef braise.

I consider myself one of the lucky ones. Lucky to have a husband who earns enough to support our family. Lucky to have sold our large house in exchange for a more modest abode, leaving us mortgage free. Lucky to no longer need to be in full time employment.

I’ve written about this before. So many times. My long time readers are rolling their eyes, and saying “for God’s sake, Katrina! Don’t you have anything else to talk about?”

Well I do. Honestly. This time I’m not talking about how rubbish my old work life was, and how it nearly broke me (although I can if you like). This time I’m talking about the challenges of reintegrating into the non-working community.

It’s a strange time. 18 months into working for myself (a combination of stay-at-home mum and cottage industry writer/food producer), and I’m slowly acclimatising to life outside the office. But it’s taking longer than I’d thought it would. It’s surprising how significant the impacts have been and how strange.

What to wear?

I wouldn’t have thought this would be a thing. But it is. It really is. And the most challenging bit is I can’t even tell you what you should be wearing because in all honesty it depends on your neighbourhood. It also depends on how involved you are in your child’s school (more on that shortly), and how much you care.

Certain neighbourhoods are all about the active wear as day wear. The look that says “I’ve just been to yoga/the gym/power walking”. Except strangely, their faces are never flushed and there’s zero sign of perspiration. Like many other fashion tribes, the label is critical. Nothing last season, nothing from The Warehouse, Cotton On or any other bargain establishment. Lululemon is universally acceptable, Nike at a pinch.

Other neighbourhoods are well practised in the art of “I woke up like this”. Bed hair, strategically ripped jeans that cost more than my unripped pair, “no make-up” make-up, “it” shoes and handbag de jour. Basically the off duty model look in the suburbs.

More than anything, it’s the time and effort everyone is putting in to look as good as they can. I once made the mistake of going to the supermarket unshowered, dirty hair pulled back, make up free. Never. Again.

The school network

Apparently some people actually make friends with the other parents from their children’s schools. There seems to be quite a network of school parents who all know each other well, and like to hang out together. I know. It’s weird.

All my years working in an office instead of at home while my kids were growing up meant I never spent time standing at the school gate. My kids were either picked up by the nanny or their grand parents, and if I was picking up/dropping off, it was via the drive through so I did’t have to leave my car. The whole experience was an exercise in optimal time management.

Now that I’m not working (or rather working from home), I don’t have that network to fall back on for coffee mornings, evening drinks, barbecues, and so on. Many of my former work colleagues have drifted away, unsurprisingly, and most of those who have chosen to retain a relationship with me are working during the day, so catching up during school hours can be challenging.

Sadly I think I may have missed the boat on this one. To be honest, I still can’t be arsed putting the effort into making a bunch of new “friends”, and life is busy regardless, so ce la vie.

Loss of stature

When you work in the kind of world that I did, you have a certain stature. I was a senior manager in an advertising agency, and I had some clout.

Or at least, I imagined I did. Increasingly I think that people were just humouring me. I can’t blame them. I think I may have been quite obnoxious on occasion.

I haven’t quite worked out yet that I am no longer as important as I think I am. I keep trying to pull rank with call centre staffers, who have the misfortune to be rostered on just when I happen to call. It helps that they’re on the other end of the phone likely on the other side of the world.

It’s a shock to realise that the mere sound of your name doesn’t carry the weight it once did. That people don’t spend their days trying to find ways to make yours better. It’s frustrating, sometimes infuriating and always humbling.

Loss of stature: part 2

The reduction in standing doesn’t stop with faceless, nameless service providers.

It carries on into your personal life. It really came home to me when I was at a workshop last weekend, where a multitude of women described themselves as “just a stay at home mum”.

I do it myself, but in a different way. Members of my family openly joke about my work status, wondering out loud why my garden is in the state it is when I don’t work. Question how I fill my days. Laugh at the daily minutiae I now find interesting and important. Flaunt their disapproval that I am no longer flogging my guts out for a global corporation, but have chosen to prioritise myself and my family instead. I’m lucky that I got to choose.

But I still find myself justifying what I’m doing. Rather than telling people who judge me to “suck it”, I say that I’m working, never wanting to admit that I’m now a stay at home mum. For goodness sake, I can’t even write it on arrival/departure cards, choosing “writer” or “cook” instead, which sound far more lofty.

I am lucky. But I have made my luck. I chose to leave a life that I wasn’t enjoying to pursue a life I love. I get to see my kids, my husband, I get to write, to cook, to walk on sunny days, to do all the things I enjoy.

I forget to wear make up to the supermarket, I never made friends with the other school mums, I yell at the call centre people (ok, I feel bad about that one). I’m a stay at home mum who’s trying to build a small business largely for myself.

If you don’t like it, suck it.

FIVE SPICE BEEF BRAISE

This is the kind of dish I can create now I have some time on my hands.

2017-06-28 10.20.11 v12 tablespoons flavourless oil (vegetable, canola or rice bran)
750g stewing beef (blade, chuck or gravy beef is good), cut into 5cm chunks
1 onion, skin removed, cut into wedges
2 cups beef stock
1/2 cup chinese rice wine or sake
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 star anise
2 teaspoons five spice powder
1 1/2 cups brown rice
3 long Asian eggplant. cut into 2cm slices
200g shitake mushrooms, stems removed
Salt/pepper
3 spring onions, sliced

  1. Heat olive oil in a large, heavy based pan with a lid. Add the beef in batches and fry until dark brown. Remove and set aside.
  2. Reheat the pan, adding more oil if necessary. Add the onions and cook until soft.
  3. Return the beef to the pan with the beef stock, rice wine, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, star anise and five spice powder. Bring to the boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 1 hour.
  4. Stir in brown rice and cook for another 30 minutes.
  5. Add eggplant and shitake mushrooms, stir to combine, and cook for a final 30 minutes.
  6. Season to taste, stir through spring onions and serve.

 

 

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The winter blame game. With a beef, lentil and parsley pesto broth.

I am well aware that this is the second week in a row that I’ve written about illness. Generally I am not especially obsessed with the possibility of getting sick. Except that it’s now officially winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and as if a cosmic alarm went off, cue me coming down with a cold.

Actually, cue me and both of my children coming down with a cold. So not only do I feel like rubbish, I have to ignore my own ill health in favour of my children’s.

Anyway, this is not supposed to be a pity party. More an observation about illness, and the way people react to it. Particularly illness of the viral kind. Particularly my family.

Amongst certain members of my family, being sick comes with finger pointing and blame. They research, track and hunt down those responsible for their sickness. The seriousness of the crime of passing on a virus is reflected by the severity of the punishment. The ultimate scarlet letter – the virus is given the offender’s name.

It becomes “Jane’s Cold” or “Brian’s Stomach Bug” or “Hazel’s Strep Throat”.

Well after the original virus has gone, the offended party back to full health, the story of “Jane’s Cold” is retold again and again. With judgement attached.

“How could Jane have come to dinner/lunch/for a walk KNOWING that she was going to pass on HER cold?”

Because Jane is nothing if not an malicious, evil woman, who fully intended to share her disease with everyone she came into contact with.

Despite the fact that every visit to the supermarket puts you into contact with the germs from hundreds of hands that have touched their trolleys. Every trip to a shopping mall has you breathing the same air as thousands of others. Every trip on a plane, bus, ferry, in a taxi can leave you exposed. Your children come home from school crawling with God knows how many viruses, which you may or may not catch.

I’m quietly confident, that while Jane has a cold, there’s an even chance that you may not even have her exact cold. And even if you avoid Jane like the plague-carrying sickie she is, chances are you’ve just caught norovirus from the random who’s trolley you’ve just pinched in the supermarket carpark.

My advice? Wash your hands. Get a flu shot. Take vitamin C (although the science is a little sketchy here). Forget about avoiding people who might be sick and live your life. If you are unfortunate enough to get a cold, have some respect for others and keep it at home. Rest up. Drink tea. Get better. And thank God you’ve lived you life fully and that it isn’t Ebola.

And stay the hell away from Jane. That woman’s bad news.

BEEF AND PUY LENTIL BROTH, WITH PARSLEY PESTO

Last week I made lentils with Toulouse Sausage from L’Authentique, and had quite a few lentils left over. Cold weather and sore throats makes me want soothing, hearty, winter fare, and this beef broth ticks all those boxes, and was a great way to use up leftovers.

Make sure you use a casserole quality cut of beef here. Anything fancier will not have the flavour you need, and won’t respond as favourably to the slow cooking.

For the broth:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 kg gravy beef or other casserole quality beef, cut into chunks2017-06-03 08.38.20 v1.jpg
4 rashers bacon, sliced
2 onions, chopped
2 carrots finely diced
2 sticks celery, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 bay leaf, 2 sprig thyme, a few bits of parsley, tied together to make a bouquet garni
1 cup red wine
1 litre beef stock
500ml water
1 cup puy lentils
1/2 savoy cabbage, chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
salt/pepper to taste

For the parsley pesto:
1 cup walnuts
2 cups parsley leaves
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice

  1. Heat the oil in a heavy based soup pot.
  2. Add the beef and brown in batches until deep brown. Remove and set aside.
  3. Reheat the pan over a medium heat. Add the bacon, and cook until crisp and golden.
  4. Reduce the heat to medium/low and add the onions, carrots, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are cooked.
  5. Add the bouquet garni, increase the heat to high and add the red wine. Allow to bubble up to cook off the alcohol.
  6. Return the beef to the pan and add the beef stock and water. Bring to the boil, reduce to simmer and cook, covered for 2 hours.
  7. Meanwhile, make the parsley pesto by putting parsley, walnuts, parmesan, garlic and salt in a food processor and process until reduced to a breadcrumb consistency. With the motor running add the lemon juice and olive oil and process until combined. It should be a liquid mix – add more oil if you feels it’s needed.
  8. Check the meat is very tender. If not, leave it for another 30 minutes or so.
  9. Add the lentils and savoy cabbage, stir and cook for another 30 minutes.
  10. Add red wine vinegar, return to the boil and cook for 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  11. Serve drizzled with parsley pesto, alongside warmed crusty bread and lashings of butter.

 

Backing up the truck. With a bowl of noodle soup.

I’ve been writing this blog for quite a few months now. I started 8 months ago with a post about Minestrone, it being winter at the time.

When I started, I envisioned myself as a food blogger. Creating recipes, sharing new products or retailers I’d discovered, and writing about our travels. Mostly that has been how my blog has turned out.

Except I’ve accidentally started writing about myself, my emotions, my health and most recently, my children. So I’m not sure whether I can truly call this a “food blog” any longer. I’m reassessing what I want to write about, what makes me happy, and equally importantly, what seems to be resonating with you lovely people who take the time to read.

I’m going back to basics. This will likely take a while as I suck intelligence from the brains of my dear friends, then get my own brain on the thinking treadmill to get some clarity. WordPress are helping with “Blogging University”, to try to build some discipline into my day, to get the basics right (or as close as I can, within reason…). They say I should tell you all about myself, but I think I may have done that already. Some may call it “oversharing”, but they’re mean and I don’t talk to them any more.

I will keep writing about food. The name of my blog will continue to be Katrina Horton Food. But food in the way that feeds us, body and soul. Food that complements the stories of me and my family.

So you may notice a few changes while I try a few new things and think it all through. I’ll likely be writing a bit less, but I think that’s probably a good thing. No-one has time to read a daily blog anyway (or write one for that matter). Quality over quantity.

And now you get a recipe for being so patient.

VIETNAMESE NURTURING BEEF NOODLE SOUP

A delicious bowl of fragrant noodles, herbs and beef. I don’t come from Vietnam, but when I eat this, I really wish I did.

SOUP:picture-080-v1
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions roughly chopped
large thumb ginger roughly sliced
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
1tsp whole peppercorns
2 litres good quality beef stock
1/3 cup fish sauce
500ml water
2 tbsp raw sugar

4 pieces of sirloin steak (approx 150g pre-trimmed), fat trimmed
250g packet rice noodles

TO GARNISH:

Coriander
Mint (Vietnamese if you can get it)
Spring onions, sliced
Red onions, thinly sliced
Lime wedges
Red chilis, thinly sliced
Chili oil
Fish sauce

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over a moderate heat.
  2. Add onions and ginger, and cook until beginning to turn brown
  3. Add spices and cook until fragrant
  4. Pour in stock, fish sauce, water and raw sugar and bring to the boil
  5. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until reduced by approximately a third
  6. Meanwhile, cook noodles in boiling water as per instructions. Drain, rinse and set aside
  7. Heat a barbecue or griddle pan until very hot, and sear steaks very briefly (no more than a minute each side) until steaks are charred but still very rare in the middle
  8. While steaks are resting, arrange noodles in four large, deep bowls. Strain soup, discard onions and spices and pour over noodles
  9. Slice steaks thinly and arrange on top
  10. Serve with garnishes and allow everyone to garnish their soup to taste

NOTES:

  • Vietnamese mint is really hard to find in Auckland (I’ve had no success so far). It’s not quite as authentic as I’d like, but I use common mint instead
  • Luke Nguyen recommends using cassia bark. Cinnamon sticks are a suitable replacement (which I’ve used above), but if you can find cassia, use that instead in the same quantities
  • If you want to substitute beef for chicken, change the stock to chicken stock, and change out the beef for chicken breast or thighs, depending on your preference. I would recommend  poaching the chicken until cooked, which you can do in the soup base for approximately 15 minutes or until no longer pink in the centre.

Eating Clean: Thai Beef Salad

I’ve been making this salad for years. It’s a great way to make steak go further when you’ve slightly miscalculated the number of people you have for dinner/lunch.

It’s also fresh, fragrant with herbs, zesty with chilli and lime, and satisfying. So long as you have herbs and the dressing ingredients, you can add virtually any vegetables you have on hand. Asparagus is a great addition in season, as is lightly steamed broccoli, fresh green beans or snow peas.

If you don’t want to use beef, exchange for cooked prawns or poached chicken (like this version from my rice paper rolls). If you want to add carbs, cook some vermicelli noodles, rinse with cold water to refresh, drain and toss through with the other salad ingredients.

THAI BEEF SALAD2016-11-20 19.43.53 v1.jpg

100g sirloin, rump or eye fillet steak per person (approx)
Mixed salad greens
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
3 spring onions, white only, finely sliced
1 capsicum, deseeded, finely sliced
1/2 telegraph cucumber, deseeded, sliced into thin strips
1 carrot, sliced into match sticks
Handful snowpea shoots
1 large red chilli, finely sliced
Large handful coriander leaves
10 mint leaves, finely chopped

Dressing:
2 Tbsp lime juice
2 Tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 red chilli, seeds removed, finely chopped

  1. Sear the steak on a hot barbecue or griddle pan until rare. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to rest and cool.
  2. Arrange all ingredients except steak, chilli and herbs on a large platter.
  3. Thinly slice steak (remove fat) and arrange among salad.
  4. Put dressing ingredients in a jar and shake to combine. Pour over salad.
  5. Sprinkle over herbs and sliced chilli and serve.

Slow cooked eye fillet

An eye fillet of beef (tenderloin) is generally regarded as the most premium cut of beef you can get. Exceptionally tender and lean, beautiful when cooked well, it can behave badly when treated without care. Which is a relatively common experience.

Over cooked eye fillet becomes tough and tasteless. And given the cost of purchasing such a high end cut, this is a tragedy. It generally should be served somewhere between rare and medium rare. This is something I’ve always struggled with. I’m pretty good at cooking a nice piece of sirloin (porterhouse) or an aged piece of rump steak, but eye fillet fills me with terror. The line between under and overcooked is just too fine!

Until my wonderful mother-in-law passed on this recipe for slow cooked eye fillet. Marinaded for 24 hours, then cooked slowly in the oven at a low temperature before a decent rest period, this beef is perfectly rare throughout, tender and flavoursome. Best of all, the process is easy to follow and virtually fool-proof.

SLOW COOKED MARINATED EYE FILLET

Whole eye fillet of beef, approx 1.5kg
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
Salt/pepper

  1. Mix together oil, vinegar and herbs in a non-reactive dish, large enough to hold the beef fillet
  2. Rub fillet with the marinade and leave in the fridge, covered overnight
  3. Pre-heat the oven to 70°C
  4. Remove eye fillet from marinade, pat dry, and place on a rack over a roasting dish
  5. After 3 hours, use a meat thermometer to check whether the internal temperature has reached 56°C (this is important to ensure the meat remains rare).
  6. At this point, remove from the oven, rub the meat liberally with salt, wrap in three layers of tinfoil and leave to rest for an hour.
  7. Optional: at this point the meat will look very pale, but will be evenly coloured internally. If you prefer a charred look on the outside (which I do), heat a barbeque or cast iron griddle to a very high heat. Quickly sear the meat on all sides until coloured as desired.
  8. Carve to desired thickness and serve.

Memories of Hanoi

Rich and I were lucky enough to travel to Hanoi last year. I’ll be honest – it was a total junket, with all the good stuff laid on, but it gave us a great opportunity to briefly visit a country we’d never seen before.

I’ll write more about this trip, the highlights, the food, etc, and post a few snaps so you can get a feel for why Hanoi is a place worth seeing. Aside from anything else, the food is beyond sensational. Although hotel food can be sub-par at the best of times, we were staying at the Intercontinental Westlake (amazing!). Breakfast every morning was wide ranging, but we always managed to plough through a bowl of beef or chicken pho.

I’ve been craving this fragrant, fresh soup a great deal recently (likely because it’s cold and I’m missing summer). I turned to Luke Nguyen’s comprehensive Vietnamese cookbook, Vietnam, and the recipe gave me the basics, but was too much for a Wednesday night!

So I messed with it a bit to make the recipe something a bit more achievable when time is short and you can’t be travelling all over town for ingredients.

VIETNAMESE BEEF NOODLE SOUPPicture 079

SOUP:
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions roughly chopped
large thumb ginger roughly sliced
2 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
5 cloves
1tsp whole peppercorns
2 litres good quality beef stock
1/3 cup fish sauce
500ml water
2 tbsp raw sugar

4 pieces of sirloin steak (approx 150g pre-trimmed), fat trimmed
250g packet rice noodles

Picture 070

TO GARNISH:

Coriander
Mint (Vietnamese if you can get it)
Spring onions, sliced
Red onions, thinly sliced
Lime wedges
Red chilis, thinly sliced
Chili oil
Fish sauce

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over a moderate heat.
  2. Add onions and ginger, and cook until beginning to turn brown
  3. Add spices and cook until fragrant
  4. Pour in stock, fish sauce, water and raw sugar and bring to the boil
  5. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until reduced by approximately a third
  6. Meanwhile, cook noodles in boiling water as per instructions. Drain, rinse and set aside
  7. Heat a barbecue or griddle pan until very hot, and sear steaks very briefly (no more than a minute each side) until steaks are charred but still very rare in the middle
  8. While steaks are resting, arrange noodles in four large, deep bowls. Strain soup, discard onions and spices and pour over noodles
  9. Slice steaks thinly and arrange on top
  10. Serve with garnishes and allow everyone to garnish their soup to taste

NOTES:

  • Vietnamese mint is really hard to find in Auckland (I’ve had no success so far). It’s not quite as authentic as I’d like, but I use common mint instead
  • Luke Nguyen recommends using cassia bark. Cinnamon sticks are a suitable replacement (which I’ve used above), but if you can find cassia, use that instead in the same quantities
  • If you want to substitute beef for chicken, change the stock to chicken stock, and change out the beef for chicken breast or thighs, depending on your preference. I would recommend  poaching the chicken until cooked, which you can do in the soup base for approximately 15 minutes or until no longer pink in the centre.