Month: November 2013

Dressing up is always more fun – 8 easy peasy salad dressings

Dressings – salad dressing and sauces to be precise can create fun and interesting lift to the most basic of salads. I have to admit, I have my go to favourite of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. When balsamic was ‘discovered’ in the 90’s by Australia, it was everywhere and I mean everywhere. Suddenly the 1l bottle of white vinegar in your pantry looked so passe. Balsamic vinegar is lovely of course, but it has it uses. There are all sorts of herbs and vinegars that can create a new dynamic if you’re willing to experiment and have some fun. Vietnamese dressings are my favourite reference point for that lovely balance of sweet, sour and spicy in dressings. Who hasn’t had a vermicelli salad and marvelled at the light and tangy dressing? Who also doesn’t love a fat potato chip dipped in aioli or mayonnaise? Many people shy away from mayonnaise as it can be ‘fattening’ and ‘bad for you’.


Let me share a little secret. I love mayonnaise. To clarify though, not store bought 98% fat free full of sugar mayonnaise but lovely, thick egg, oil, mustard and lemon juice mayonnaise. Have you ever actually looked at the labels on store bought dressings and wondered how something so simple suddenly has so much to it? Processed foods need preservatives to give it shelf life. Dressings at home don’t need to be kept forever, they can be whisked up and poured over and enjoyed. Home made mayonnaise can last at least a week if refrigerated well in a sealed container. This is the magic and difference of taking the time to make your own dressing. You can add and subtract ingredients at a whim and enjoy it there and then.


So what’s the secret to lovely dressings? Have fun! Think outside the square. Some ideas:

1. Citrus dressing – either juice a citrus of your choice (orange, blood orange, lemon, grapefuit) or buy some (at least 1 cup required) and place in small saucepan and allow to come to a gentle simmer. Allow to simmer until reduced slightly (the juice will thicken) remove from heat and cool, add oil of a ratio of 1:3, one part juice to 3 parts oil, season with salt and pepper, add some chopped herbs and use for chicken or seafood salads

2. Greek dressing – 1/2 cup lemon juice, 1 tbsp dried oregano, 3 cups olive oil, salt and pepper, pinch of paprika – whisk together and use on Greek salads, chicken salads or whatever takes your fancy

3. Tzatziki – 1 small tub of Greek or plain yoghurt, 1 cucumber deseeded and grated, 1 garlic clove crushed, 1 lemon rind and juice, salt and pepper – combine in bowl and refrigerate – great for burgers, wraps, salads

4. Balsamic honey mustard – 1 tbsp honey, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 1 cup olive oil – whisk honey and mustard together, add vinegar and then oil – lovely for chicken or beef salads

5. Vietnamese style dressing – 1 tbsp honey or 1 tbsp sugar dissolved in 2 tbsp boiling water, 1/4 cup lime or lemon juice, splash of white vinegar, splash of fish sauce, 1 chilli finely sliced, 1 teasp crushed garlic, 1/3 cup chopped coriander, splash of soy sauce to taste for salty – mix ingredients together in bowl -lovely for Asian style coleslaws, dipping sauces, noodle salads

6. Raspberry vinegar – This is so easy and can be used with a splash of olive oil as lovely summer dressing – Place one punnet of raspberries in a sterilised screw top jar (sterilise bottles by boiling in a pot of water for about 2-3 minutes) and add at least 750 ml of vinegar and place lid on. Leave in a cool dark places for about 2 weeks. Strain the vinegar through cheesecloth or a strainer and voila, lovely handmade raspberry vinegar. The raspberries are edible, just pickled now. The same can be done with herbs such as tarragon and thyme, lovely for french style salads.

7. Aioli – 200g roast garlic (cheats way – bring garlic to boil in saucepan and simmer until soft, strain and pan fry until golden), pinch of salt, 1 egg yolk. 1 cup of vegetable oil, splash of lemon juice, 1 tbsp dijon mustard

Place yolks, garlic and mustard in food processor and process until well combined, slowly add olive oil through feed tube slowly allowing to blend easily until mixture thickens. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice. (Chef hint – don’t use eggs straight from the fridge – mayonnaises work better with warm ingredients and combine with less chance of splitting. BUT don’t have the garlic too hot as the heat can also cause it to split. Solution? Add some ice cubes to cool. If the mix splits, don’t through it out!! It can be saved. Take the mix out into another jug, Just put another egg yolk and some salt in the blender, turn on and slowly pour the split mix back in until thickened. Easy!)

8. Cocktail sauce  – 80’s style prawn cocktail anyone! This retro classic is my favourite with fresh seafood – 1 cup mayonnaise (make as aioli minus the garlic), 2-3 tbsp tomato sauce, splash of Worcestershire, salt and pepper, splash of Tabasco for kick – mix together and refrigerate. Enjoy with a fat fresh prawn dipped in and popped in your mouth when no one is watching. After all, you wouldn’t want to have a sneaky taste before it goes to the table would you?

So there you have it, 8 easy peasy salad dressing to dress up any dish and be dinner party worthy. Or just have some fun with your everyday meals. Happy eating!


My Top Five Cooking Fails or Anecdotes from In My Kitchen

Have you ever followed a recipe to the t thinking, yes, this will be a winner…then it happens…it falls on the floor, it flops, it burns, its just not right. Yep…me too.

Contrary to popular belief I haven’t always executed amazing dishes. Hard to believe I know (tongue is firmly in cheek by the way). Some of my best disasters have happened when I have been in cooking competitions, where the pressure is even higher than your family sitting at a dining table hungrily awaiting your feast. So I give you five of the best. Because who doesn’t love hearing about what not to do and how I could have done it better. Take it away

Number One – The infamous crème caramel surprise

It was my first foray into French desserts and it was not pretty. The caramel was watery, the custard undercooked. The result? A sloppy eggy mess turned out at the table with much anticipation to be met with much horror. It is still referred to as the crème caramel surprise whenever a family feels the need to mock me. Moral of the story – practice makes perfect. I now make a mean crème caramel

creme caramel

Number Two – The oven that wasn’t on

Before commencing a cooking competition there are a few things that you do before cooking. Turn on the oven, light the stove, make sure all your utensils are in order and then pick up your knives. Note the turn on the oven. I thought it was on and it unfortunately wasn’t and I didn’t realise until the time allocated for me to bake one of my ingredients was running out. Trying not to let it show I racked my brains on what to do. I decided (wrongly) to just put them in and see how it went. The result? Raw tomatoes…not my finest hour. Moral of the story – check your oven. If not on and its too late,  there is a stove and it may help to start the cooking process.


Number Three – The falling pasta

My family loves to make pasta. I have a kitchen aid attachment especially. Our usual technique for drying is to hang it over a broom stick kept aside for this purpose balanced between two chairs or a chair and a table. Now I must point out, for the better part of say 20 years my Dad had his spot at the kitchen table. It was his spot and no one else felt right sitting there. One day my sister and I were making pasta and were using Dad’s chair to balance the broom stick. Dad either didn’t see the pasta or chose to stand his ground that it was his chair and he came into the kitchen and pulled the chair out to sit down. Needless to say the pasta hit the ground….much to my sister’s and I annoyance we gathered it up and started again. Until he came back and did it again….and again. Three times he pulled the chair back. I don’t know if he was having a bad day or he couldn’t see that broom stick but the pasta fail was apparent. It became clear that pasta making was not on the agenda that day. Moral of the story – don’t use dad’s chair. End of story


Number Four – Easter chocolate

This is an early one, back in the childhood days. My school friend and I thought it would be really nice to make some Easter chocolates for our class mates. We had the chocolate, we had the moulds, we were ready. Until we realised we had crap chocolate that wasn’t melting well. I know, let’s add water! If you’ve ever cooked with chocolate you’d know how much water and chocolate really don’t mix. At first it seemed really silky and we high fived each other for the awesome solution. Eagerly we poured it into the moulds and waited. The chocolates we popped out were grainy and pretty inedible. Water and chocolate really don’t like each other. They were binned. I think our class mates were thankful. Moral of the story – use good quality ingredients to start with and take your time with chocolate. It’s one ingredient you can’t rush.


Number Five – The split hollandaise

Hollandaise is an egg and clarified butter emulsion. It’s like making mayonaise but with butter instead of oil. It is a little more technical but so worth it. It was on the menu in a restaurant I worked in and I thought it was all good until a dish was called and I realised it had split. Now hollandaise isn’t quick to fix. A dish that is called away is usually expected in front of the head chef in about two minutes max. Fixing hollandaise requires whipping up new eggs into a sabayon (for a basic recipe so you get the idea check it out here) and remix the split sauce back in. Now we are looking at about five minutes. So what to do? Keep your cool. Never admit there’s a problem. Send all the other dishes you can before madly trying to remake the sauce and send the dish. A bit of smoke and mirrors shall we say. If you’re lucky and work with a good team you can recruit someone to help you make the sauce or slow their dishes down so you all get you food together as one. I had a good team. They also helped me and my chef never knew. Moral of the story – check everything before assuming it’s ok. And ask for help if you need to. There’s no shame in needing someone to have your back.


Do you have any cooking disasters you’d like to share? I’d love to hear your horror stories and triumphs