Friday, November 19, 2010

Shiraz-braised beef cheek and a fancy apple tart

Tarte fine aux pommes with a boule of vanilla-bean ice-cream

I'm becoming such an old lady.  Despite being gainfully employed for over 2 years now, I hardly ever go to FND's (Friday Night Drinks), and I much prefer staying home and curling up on the couch.  Yay!  However, just because you are having a quiet night in doesn't mean you have drop your standards.  Here's a FFFND (a Fabulously Fancy Friday Night Dinner) I cooked last month, on a night when I couldn't even contemplate leaving the house.


A Fabulously Fancy Friday Night Dinner for 2

Shiraz-braised beef cheek
Individual Tartes fines aux pommes

I'd been hankering for a hearty slow-cooked stew of beef cheeks, but finding my cookbooks bereft of beek cheek recipes, I turned to the internet.  This recipe, from Russell Blaikie, seemed pretty straightforward, so I decided to give it a go.

I went to a local butcher for the beef cheeks - at most places you have to get them ordered in, but luckily they keep a small stash in the freezer.  He let me know that they cut most of the fat and sinew off, but that it is still a fatty cut. No problems!  And here they are...
Beef Cheeks
You can look at the recipe if you want detailed instructions (or try making it yourself!), but in brief: you marinate the cheeks overnight in shiraz and some chopped veggies, then sear the cheeks and vegetables separately til the cheeks are brown and the veggies are soft.  You then chuck it all back in the pot with some stock and the marinading liquor, and cook slowly in the oven.  I used a reasonably-priced cleanskin Heathcote Shiraz.  (I did have a bottle of very nice Moortangi Estate Shiraz at home, but I think I would have gotten in big trouble if I'd used that in a stew!!!)

Process steps
Once that's all done, you strain out the softened veggies and chuck them out, then add some boiled carrot mush to the liquid.  This is meant to give it a sweet flavour and thicken the sauce.  Then you boil the carrotty, beefy liquid until thickened, add the cheeks to warm them through and TA-DAH! Dinner is served.

Well, actually you'll need some accompaniments too - I made some soft, creamy mash and opened up a tin of those French peas I like so much.

Dinner!
You'll see the liquid was a little thin: that is because I forgot to do thicken the sauce (oops), and didn't realise until we'd already started eating.  Oh well!  The flavour was still good, and check out how melty soft the cheeks were!
Soft, soft meat!
Yum, yum, yum.  At this time of year, I'd say it's getting too warm for hearty stews like this, but you never know with Melbourne's volatile weather!

We did have some leftovers, and I boiled up the remaining sauce to see what it would be like thickened.

Thickened sauce
Aah... that's better!

A true FFFND needs a fancy dessert, and I thought a tare fine aux pommes would do the trick.  I've loved these ever since my Dad told me about the fabulous one he had at The Brasserie at Crown.  Incidentally, I've blogged The Brasserie three times now, but never had their apple tart.  I've also heard that their chef Phillipe Mouchel has left The Brasserie, and I'm waiting with bated breath for his new restaurant to open!

But in the meantime I have to make my own apple tarts. And, like Montell says: this is how we do it.

I prepared most of the elements while the stew was cooking, and put everything together and baked the tarts after we'd eaten.  I started by defrosting the last of the puff pastry I made, and doing the final 2 turns...

...cut it into two circles, traced a little border around the edge, and docked the centre with a fork.


To make the tarts a little bit fancier than the standard "apples on pastry"-style tart, I whipped up some frangipane as well.  I happened to have some really nice organic almond meal, which was chunky and still had some skin on.  It made the frangipane pleasingly wholesome and rustic.  (Clearly not the type of almond meal you'd use for macarons!)


So, I spread the frangipane on the centre of the pastry circles, and topped them with thin slices of apple.


They only took about 12 minutes in a hot oven (220C) to cook.  But check earlier so they don't burn!

Tarte fine aux Pommes
Hehe, I was so proud that my homemade pastry rose up in pretty layers!  It was a little uneven though, and if these things bother you, I've been told that the unnevenness can be remedied by using a very sharp knife when cutting out the pastry.  But trust me, if you've got a freshly baked apple tart in front of you, the only thing you'll be thinking is: "MUST EAT NOW!"

Topped with a scoop of vanilla-bean ice-cream, it is dessert perfection. 


This was so, so fabulous.  A vast improvement on my previous attempt!  I loved the crispy, flaky base, the creamy almond filling, and the soft apples.  I think it was the frangipane that really made the difference, helping the apples and pastry meld together harmoniously.  It was actually really easy to make (even easier if you buy the puff pastry), and looks super-impressive, so it's definitely one to keep in mind for dinner parties.

The ice-cream was "Coles finest" brand, which seems to be their in-house premium line, and I was really impressed with it.  You can see how creamy and yummy it looks in the picture.  I bought it - after lengthy consideration standing in front of the freezer at Coles - mainly because it was the only vanilla-bean ice-cream that came in a 500ml container! (My freezer is tiny.)  It was a bit more expensive than the more well-known Connoisseur ice-cream, but I don't like that brand.  Even though they're a premium (i.e. expensive) supermarket brand, their vanilla ice-cream is starkly white, and has kind of a fake taste to it, with no vanilla bean-flecks.  I just don't get why you'd pay extra for it.  Just quietly, I'd rather have a standard el-cheapo aerated and xanthan-gummed vanilla ice-cream than Connoisseur, haha!  (Don't judge me!)

The individual tarts were quite a generous serving, so I couldn't finish my whole one.  But leftovers did make a fabulous sneaky weekend breakfast!

Meltingly tender beef cheeks braised in Shiraz, and a flaky, buttery, almondy apple tart.  That, my friends, is how you do a Friday night in style.

9 comments:

almostalwaysravenous said...

what a friday in ey! did the cheeks taste too strongly of shiraz? i probably wouldn't mind anyways, since i love shiraz LOLz.
You should have opened the other bottle to have WITH the cheeks hehehe.

Dani Oldmeadow said...

Try Vanilla Bean Weis Brand ice cream - nicer than Connoisseur

My Restaurants Melbourne said...

You have done an amazing job Sarah!! The tarte looks stunning,

Michelle Chin said...

Which part of malaysia are you from?!

Hannah said...

Ah, I'm so with you. I'm 23 years old, and have always preferred to be at home on the couch with yummy food than out and about at bars.

THis might be why I have lots of lovely female friends and yet am single. Darnit.

Ah well. At least delicious, delicious frangipane will never cheat on me.

P.S. Super excited to hear that the Coles premium is worth it! I saw that they have limited edition Christmas Pudding and White Christmas flavours available. I almost bought them, before discovering they both have citrus peel. Sigh.

hungryandfrozen said...

Yum...I've always wanted to try making my own puff pastry. Frangipane sounds perfect with the tarts - it's so delicious! Have to say I do enjoy a good Friday night in as well more often than not, although that said a Friday night out also suits as you then have Saturday AND Sunday to recover :)

LimeCake said...

tell me about it, i love staying home on friday nights too, especially after a long week at work. this dinner looks fabulous!

catty said...

There is totally no shame in staying in on Friday nights! In fact that is what I look forward to most haha... your apple tart looks amazing! Love the puffiness of the pastry!

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Tart fine is one of my favourite desserts too! I was amazed at how simple yet tasty it was! :D