Month: September 2013

Easy Peasy Lamb Burgers

Creating interesting and nice dinner options can be a bit of a chore when you really aren’t sure what you feel like and the thought of opening a recipe book seems too much like work. Well for me it’s a lot like being at work but that’s another story! I decided burgers were on the cards and to ramp up the fanciness and exclamations of oh la la’s I decided to make lamb mince patties.

To me the secret of a good burger pattie is some spice, some herbs and something to create moisture when you are cooking the meat so you don’t end up with a round pattie of well…mince really. Some may argue with me but I don’t believe that mince in inherently tasty unless perhaps you make your own but not many people have a mincer these days nor the inclination to fire it up. So how to make mince tasty I hear you ask? And why is moisture important?

Salt and pepper are a good start as a seasoning but think of complimentary flavours. For lamb, morroccan style spices work well, or fresh herbs and garlic are always easy. I went with a morroccan spice blend, thrown together from the spice rack in my cupboard. Why moisture I hear you ask? Some minces have a lot of fat, some not so much. As fat melts is creates flavour and moisture which in turn help create plump and juicy burger patties as opposed to dry and crumbly ones. If you lean towards the well, lean side of mince you need something else besides fat to create moisture and flavour. I used grilled eggplant due to their high water content (they are like a sponge, trust me) and some breadcrumbs soaked in milk. This is a little chef secret. If you are gluten free by all means use gluten free breads crumbs, they are more a medium to absorb the liquid and then release it as the temperature rises and it turns to steam. Lactose free, just use water, it will work just as well.

Im all about fuss free cooking so I grilled my eggplant in rounds with the onion and then added it to the blender with some extra spices, the milk soaked breadcrumbs, gave it a whizz and added it to the mince. I formed the patties and let them sit for about and hour to firm up before grilling. I used grilled capsicum and zucchini, bbq sauce, some of the grilled onion and spinach leaves to top the bun. I also toasted the bun on the BBQ for some extra zing. Feel free to use what you wish, hommus or yoghurt dressing would be lovely, rocket or plain lettuce, sliced tomato and cucumber, the freedom to choose is yours! These burgers can also be made in advance and frozen, or made, eaten and the leftovers frozen for another scrumptious meal. You can make smaller meatball style for a canape or to fill a wrap as well.

Ingredients:

– 1 Packet of lamb mince (usually 500g)

– 1 eggplant

– Two carrots

– 1 Capsicum

– 1 red onion

– 1/4 cup chopped parsley

– Moroccan or otherwise seasoning of your choice

– 2-3 slices of bread or one bread roll

Method:

1. Soak bread in just enough milk to cover

2. Slice eggplant and onion and season with spices and brush with olive oil. Split open capsicum lengthways, remove seeds and brush with olive oil.

3. Grill eggplant, capsicum and onion until softened. Set capsicum aside for burger topping, place eggplant and onion in a food processor.

4. Chop carrot into small enough pieces for processor, add to eggplant and onion mix with bread and seasoning to taste, blend until smooth paste

5. Fold through mince until well incorporated

6. Form into patties or meatballs and set in fridge for at least one hour NB: The larger the patties the longer the cooking time so ensure the patties are of reasonable thickness so as to not burn before cooking through – approx 2cm would suffice

7. Grill or pan fry the patties until golden and cooked through

8. Assemble burgers or wraps with toppings of your choice

9. Assume burger grip and tuck in

Of all the jobs you could choose! Food for thought as to why chefs do what they do

IMOK_collage chef

I love reading. Nothing scandalous about that but I can become lost in the words and world printed on a page to the point where reading about food makes my tummy grumble. I was reading the newish Jodi Piccoult book “The Story Teller” which tells the story of a concentration camp survivor, her granddaughter and an SS officer who has escaped to America. Much of the book is centred on baking and food as the survivor’s dad was a baker and her granddaughter is too. Reading the story and the evocative images of food eaten, food shared and food dreamed of when starvation was a part of daily life, had me considering how much a part food plays in our life. For the majority of the world food is not consumed purely for survival. We are aware that our body requires food as nourishment and energy but food also plays a part in many other ways. Food can be the love story we weave from when parents feed children to ensure their thrival and growth, to the food lovingly prepared by one for another. Food tells of family traditions, recipes born of necessity, it reveals the meshing of cultures and the complexities of flavours that have developed through travel and exploration.

Becoming a chef was almost like an extension of a role I already enjoyed. Cooking for me has always been fun and I have always loved sharing stories at the table and bringing together friends and family for a meal. I am sometimes asked if I enjoy having other people cook for me or do I find it hard as I would lean towards the criticising what they have cooked. For me, if I am not paying another professional to cook for me i.e. eating out, I cannot fathom why I would ever criticise someone sharing their food with me. Even if it is a toasted cheese sandwich, if the person making it has made it with intention and care I cannot help but enjoy it as it far surpasses just being a food item and becomes a statement of their intent to care for and about me.

Food evokes so many different memories of meals eaten and times celebrated.

When I think of my Polish grandparents I think of many food items

– my grandfather’s Sunday pork roast and apple sauce

– my grandmother’s chicken curry made from shredded chicken out of the stock pot

– my grandmother’s periogi which we used to fight over

– warm jam donuts from the polish church canteen

– poppy seed stollen and other cakes whose names I forget

When I think of my dad i think of

– A garden groaning with vegetables

– Green beans which he ate by the bowl full and boiled eggs

– Pasta in all forms

– Loaves of bread ripped apart to be dunked into the leftover sugo

– Percolated coffee and numerous biscuits for dunking

My mother evokes

– Handmade pasta and biscuits

– Apple tea cakes

– Crostoli and donut balls

– Spaetzle and chicken broth when we were unwell

– Pickled cucumbers and grilled vegetables

– Margarine containers of home made brawn which made me recoil in horror

When I hear of these foods or eat them the memories of those that nurtured and cared for me are evoked and recalled. These are the stories and memories of those that came before me that I hope to share and expand upon with those that will come after me.

collage

It can be argued that we place too much emotional emphasis on food and that can certainly be the case, but we can have enjoyment from food and evocative memories without shovelling the meal down. There is no reason that a small version of one’s favourite dish can’t be made to celebrate an occasion or just because. What if we could create easy and enjoyable meals that become part of our family’s story? I have my mother’s recipe books from high school, carefully hand written and graded accordingly. I love that I have this part of her history with me, tangible evidence of foods she cooked and shared with her parents and siblings and then it turn the family she create with my dad, us. Two recipes from that book feature here, the pumpkin scones and jam drops. Two old fashioned favourites that I recreated and shared, a little part of my mum, a little part of me. We can’t help but be influenced by those around us at the best of times, but to me it is delightful when that influence is the sharing of ideas and stories from which we can choose what we take from it and create as our own. To me the most interesting and enjoyable recipes are the ones in which a chef or cook or just you or me have taken an idea, an example and had some fun creating it for enjoyment and tweaked it to suit the individual palate.

As a chef it is always the objective to create food that is stimulating and interesting. Flavour combinations and techniques are akin to a painter’s tool box, they are the colours and textures we use to tell a story or create an experience.

One of my favourite catering jobs was for a previous co-worker that was in the finance department. She asked if I could create a surprise five course menu for her and her husband as an anniversary present. Her only guidelines were he likes Asian style food. This was so much fun to prepare and I scoured my cook books and dialogued with her the ideas and a menu was born. Five courses from light (soup) to heavy (curry) from mildly spicy to something with some kick. Each dish was only three to four mouthfuls but each was created to be full of flavour. Her husband arrived home from work to find us in the kitchen, the table set and me in my uniform and a look of puzzlement on his face. ‘Surprise’ she said, ‘Welcome to your anniversary dinner’. The fact that I could create an experience for these two, memories and enjoyment at home created in their kitchen was the beginning of the idea that this could be how people choose to eat more often. What if we could create fun menus to celebrate or just enjoy? What if your wedding menu consisted of your favourite meals shared through your dating years?

Recently I made baked stuffed apples for my brother and sister in law. My brother smiled fondly as he recalled how my mother used to make this very dessert for us all. It created a space of quiet contemplation as a lovely memory was recalled. What if the mere consumption of the food was only half the story? What if the act itself of creating the meal was half the fun? 99% of the food I create professionally I don’t eat myself. Well except for some sneaky mouthfuls. So what’s in it for me? What drives us chefs to create meals we never eat? I believe it’s the knowing that those that come and choose to dine at our tables enjoy sharing that which we create. They enjoy the experience of eating well prepared food and the expertise and experimental flair of those that love to create with food. ? A part of me smiles as I recall all the beautiful meals I have made, all the near misses I have salvaged and the team work that has created a successful food service. Why indeed? Are we crazy? Are we silly? Or do we just know that for us, creating food, sharing food and talking about food is just a part of who we are. We couldn’t imagine it any other way. Nor would we want to.

What are your favourite foods to make for yourself or loved ones? Are there items you make when it’s just you as the other doesn’t like it as much? Do you have a family recipe that has been handed down for generations and is part of your story? I would love you to share these ideas with me as I have with you.

IMOK_signature dish

My 4 top tips for creating a signature dish for dinner parties

One of the questions I am frequently asked when people learn I am a chef is “what’s your signature dish?” This question is like a giant spotlight on me as I feel like how can can I choose just one thing that I like to cook? But then I realised there are dishes that I happily trot out when company comes over as they are easy, fuss free and I know I can make them without stress. When I was an apprentice and used to doing cooking competitions the best advice my head chef gave me was to cook food I am familiar with. either from the restaurant or my own personal background. The last thing you need when you are already under pressure is to have to gaze at a recipe for ten minutes to work out what in the world you are doing before you even pick up a knife or boil some water. 

Cooking at home for yourself and cooking for a dinner party can take you from blissed out foodie instragraming your creation to an re-enactment from Bridget Jones’s diary with the blue soup because she had the wrong string to tie her vegetables. No one likes blue soup. Well not me anyway!

Here are some simple steps to creating your own signature dish with ease

1. Cook with ingredients you are familiar with – can’t pronounce quinoa let alone know what it is? Perhaps not the best idea to have it in a dish for a dinner party. Experimenting with food is great but not at the cost of your sanity on party day. Choose foods that you know what to do with and how they taste and enjoy to build your confidence. The more you cook the more confident you will be. Think of familiar flavours as the training wheels of your repertoire. They are there to support you until your confident enough to go it alone. 

2. Keep it simple. The recipe may give a time frame as a guide but realistically things can crop up that delay the process. Phone rings, kids are around, an ingredient is forgotten so you pop to the shops, all sorts of things can happen on party day that can make a 30 minute meal a hour and a half slog. Recipes with special techniques or labour intensive ingredients/processes such as peeling, roasting then slicing can me more hassle than its worth. By all means as you develop your skills a more adventurous dish can be tackled but this is about creating a simple go to meal for those less confident behind a stove. Methods that aren’t a full page long are a good indication of a easy to tackle recipe. Simple doesn’t mean boring and the joy and success of creating these meals can elevate simple to elegant with attention to details and fresh ingredients.

3. Cook something you already enjoy and take it up a notch. Love cooking pasta? Research interesting flavour combinations or presentation styles to take your dish from family to dinner party.  Simple techniques such as twisting pastas such as linguine or fettuccine on a carving fork to create a long neat nest can make your family recipe a shining star of the table. If you’re already familiar with a dish try experimenting with the presentation or substituting some ingredients for an updated version. Love make pies or tarts? Create individual tarts with a sauce and garnish such as raspberry coulis and candied lemons for lemon meringue pie or salted caramel sauce and vanilla ice-cream with a chocolate tart. If the majority of the dish is familiar the fun can be had with the presentation and sides to the dish. 

4.  Try it and Make notes – sometimes you read a recipe and your own personal tastes/aesthetics feel the dish could use a bit more of this and a little less of that, or sometimes you make a dish and feel some things could be changed for more success. Take note of these observations as this is how you make the dish your own. Chefs use flavour combinations or ideas and add their own personal touch. They may like something a little spicier, would use more colour or cut a vegetable differently. They may grill instead of bake, steam instead of poach. These are the elements of you that make the dish your own. Trust your taste and take notes of what worked and didn’t work. Recipes evolved and develop over time. Make it yours. There are many ways to make Caesar dressing. The best way? Your own. If you would rather use a food processor instead of chopping when the chopping isn’t seen such as pasta sauce or casseroles, by all means do it if it cuts down time. Recipes that have been handed down will have personal touches added. Everyone has a way of wearing clothes that is their own, why not create food in a way that is yours?

These aren’t hard and fast rules but they are techniques I have used to create my own version of things. I have shown in this blog where I have changed up a recipe I have found and altered it to suit my personal tastes. A signature dish isn’t just a boring old go to dish, it is something that you enjoy cooking and eating and sharing with friends and family. A signature dish of a restaurant is one that reflects the food style and flavours that are a common thread to all dishes. Have a great bbq marinade? Use it! Have a really great pasta sauce? Use it! Don’t be afraid to use what you know, have fun with and experiment with the presentation to update it. Most of all, just have fun. That’s the best part of it all 🙂

P.s Wish someone could show you how to take it up a notch and create your own signature dish? I can come to you and chat about the foods you enjoy and discuss ways to take it up a notch to have you dinner party ready in no time. I can teach you cooking techniques and methods all in the comfort of your own home with the utensils and space your are familiar with.  Ask me how today – email [email protected] or ph 0423 450 363 to start creating with me 

Nutella and Strawberry = French Toast Delicious

IMOK_finished strawberry dish

I have to attribute this idea to a pinterest post I found when lying in bed trying not to salivate as I explored some recipe inspiration. Her blog is found on navywifecook.com and is rather cute and interesting to explore. 

So the recipe. Essentially Nutella French Toast….I had you at Nutella right? My last post was about classic food combinations, I forgot to mention chocolate and just about anything right? Especially hazelnuts thus the love of nutella. French toast is usually one piece of bread dipped in egg and milk/cream mix and fried in a pan but this recipe calls for two slices and a healthy dollop of nutella in between. Irresistible right? Add some delicious strawberries and we have dessert deliciousness.

IMOK_ strawberryingredients

Ingredients (serves four)

3 eggs

1/3 cup milk

2 tbsp vanilla extract

3 tbsp sugar

8 slices bread

nutella

butter for frying (1-2 tbsp)

Method

Whisk egg and milk together until combined

Add sugar and vanilla to egg mix and combine

Cut crusts off bread and spread with nutella

Sandwich two slices together nutella side facing

Warm a frying pan to medium heat and melt 1 teaspoon butter per sandwich

Dip bread in egg mix and fry in pan approx 1-2 min each side until golden

Remove from pan and keep warm under low heat oven grill or by wrapping in foil until all sandwiches are cooked

Cut in half and serve with quartered strawberries and dust with icing sugar

Take a bite and enjoy the gooey hazelnutty chocolately toasty goodness. You can tell I enjoy this recipe right? 😉

IMOK_strawberries IMOK_cooking bread IMOK_finished strawberry dish