classic dishes

The knives are out – how to choose a kitchen knife that works for you

 a chef's hands with creaning fish | description: a chef's hands with creaning fish | location: Tokyo Japan | location: Tokyo Japan | description: a chef's hands with creaning fish | description: a chef's hands with creaning fish | location: Tokyo Japan | location: Tokyo Japan knife with food a knife and food

Besides what is is my favourite food to cook, what type of knife do I use is another question I am often asked. 

So how do you know what type of knife to invest in, what to look for and where to save your dollars? 

Let’s start with some basic points to consider:

1. What is the knife for and how often will you use it?

Knives whose job entails boning, filleting or cleaving may not be used very often unless they are a tool of the trade. Even as a chef I don’t often bone or fillet as the cuts we that come in in certain establishments sometimes don’t require too much further preparation. In other jobs though I might have to bone quails, fillet some fish and break down some chickens but for the most part the knife I use the most is my general chef knife.

So what is a chef knife exactly? It is usually a 20cm blade knife with a larger heel and fine point for chopping, dicing, slicing. It is almost an extension of a chef’s hand and is their best friend. 

For home cooks? This can be the weapon of choice when whipping up a fabulous meal. Having a comfortable, sharp, chef’s knife can make short work of hard task’s.

So for the knives you use most often it is worth the investment versus the little used knives that you can save your pennies on. 

knives

2. Is the handle comfortable to hold?

If you’re going to be holding the knife and chopping a storm the handle has to be comfortable. So how do you know? Grip it as if you were going to chop on a board and get a feel for it. Does it fit comfortably in your hand? What may fit well for someone else may not work for you. 

hand with knife

3. Is it the right weight for you?

I prefer somewhat lighter knives as after a long day chopping more weight can create unnecessary strain. But if a knife is too light it can make heavy duty chopping such as through root vegetables or meat a strain. Find the right balance and you’ll be chopping with ease in no time.

knife holding

4. What is the handle made of?

Quality knives either consist of one piece of steel from blade to handle or heavy duty plastic. The most important thing to consider with the handle is the ease of cleaning i.e one piece of steel or clean plastic handle as opposed to wood that can be porous and harbour germs. Quality knives also have secure joins between knife and handle that won’t crack or break which can cause injury if they break. 

knife handles

5. What is the blade made of?

Most modern knives are made of stainless steel with the better quality ones made of a higher grade composition. Some older knives may be made of carbon steel which is a great metal but is prone to rusting thus is often not found in many commercial knives as vigilance is required to prevent the rust. 

knife blade

6. What is the blade edge like?

A quality knife will have a blade edge from tip to hilt. Cheap knives will feature a thick edge that doesn’t extend to the hilt which can make it useless for chopping carrots and other harder vegetables. A fine edge will allow for precision cutting wheres a thick edge makes for clunky, difficult cutting. 

knife edge

 

7. Can you keep it sharp?

If you are going to invest in a quality knife make sure you can keep it sharp to prong its use. This is where you either need to also invest in a quality knife steel and stone or a quality sharpener. Cheap sharpeners will just shave too much of the blade off at too big an angle. A knife steel keeps an edge sharp whilst a stone hones the edge when it becomes too dull. Both are a great addition to your tool kit to keep your knives if top shape. 

knife steel

 

So taking this into consideration the short of it all is:

– Look for a comfortable knife that has a fine even blade, quality plastic or steel handle and is made of quality stainless steel. 

– Spend your money on the knives you use the most

– Invest in a knife steel and learn how to use it to keep your knives honed and sharp

 

 

 

 

 

Putting the Merry in your Christmas

Gift certificate template general

Stuck for last minute Christmas idea? Know someone that loves to cook or you wish they did? Never fear, I offer gift vouchers that can be purchased as either a dollar amount ($50 etc) or class bookings ($150+) which you can provide as either valid for one two hours class or speak to me and we can create a specific class i.e Italian, Cooking with Herbs, Dessert etc

How do you organise a voucher? Just email me at [email protected], I can invoice you for a credit card payment or direct debit and the gift voucher will be in your inbox within 24 hours. How does it get any better than that? 😀 If you’d like to chat about options just gie me a call on 0423 450 363 and we can discuss your options.

Wishing everyone a Happy Holiday season and all the best for the New Year 

 

 

 

Cooking your best without the stress

What if creating in the kitchen could be fun and easy?

What if you could go from this:

frustrated cooking empty fridge man upset cooking

To this:

davin and erin jane family under cover chef simon

Any of these scenarios familiar? A whole lot of ingredients and no idea what to do? A mix that just hasn’t worked? Empty fridge and it’s dinner time? What if all these problems could be solved with ease?

After nearly 14 years as a chef and many more cooking at home, I have seen all sorts of interesting disasters and had to handle plenty of my own. But still cooking has been one of the most interesting and fun contributions to my life. What if the mistakes I have made and learnt from could be the key to showing you how fun and easy food can be? 

I have worked in kitchens all over the world from here in Brisbane to London and Canada. I have cooked functions for 100+ people and worked services where we served over 180 people a la carte and enjoyed every moment. Trust me, I’ve had my share of cooking disasters from burnt food to dropped food and everything in between. But still I have come back for more and kept creating delicious meals. 

So what is the magic element to not losing your cool when things go a little haywire? No it’s not a zen meditation and it’s not reality tv drama. It’s knowing what can be done, what can’t be saved and where to head to next. It has taken time and practice and now I am sharing these skills with you. 

How do you learn these skills to create ease in your kitchen? Coming in 2015 is my series of classes, “Cook your best without the stress”. 

What is cooking your best I hear you ask? It’s creating dishes you love with your own flair and flavour. This is not about following a recipe to the gram nor is it about flying by the seat of your pants when you are not ready to go solo just yet.

These classes are all about discovering your culinary talents and strengths and building on them. Love desserts? Let’s explore that. Can’t get enough of making pasta from scratch? Let’s see what else you can do with flavours and shapes. With a chef at your side guiding you, encouraging you and showing you the ropes cooking your best will be achieved in no time. 

I know that busy schedules, long work days and budgets can all contribute to stress at meal time. With planning, confidence in your skills and menu ideas the stress can disappear with ease. I would like to introduce you to a new way of creating in your kitchen; join me in having some fun, joy and ease in your kitchen today. 

So how do you start? Just register your interest by filling in the contact form with the subject “Cooking your best” and I’ll add you to the list. 

The fine print:

Classes are based on individual lessons created in your home with a private facebook group you are invited to join to share your progress, recipes and successes

You will receive a bespoke lesson plan based on what you would like to cook and learn

The minimum commitment is three classes at $400 total for 2 hours per lesson. Ingredients and travel time (if applicable) are not included. For full terms and conditions please see the FAQ page 

Full recipes, workbooks, notes and photos of your lessons and meals will be included emailed each week following the classes. 

Classes can be booked and started from January 2015

If you would like to book a group class please add this to the contact form and we can arrange a suitable package for group lesson. 

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Keeping it cool and classy with Champagne Pops

Hello Sunshine! You could be forgiven for thinking it’s Summer all year round here in Queensland with the weather at the moment. So what adult treat can you whip up to keep it cool and classy? Champagne pops of course!

Now I am not suggesting you have to use Champagne for this recipe, good quality sparkling wine works great too. I say good quality as you will be able to taste the wine with the pops so any corked or old wines can ruin the light fruity taste of the pops. 

So what’s involved? It’s pretty simple really – all you need is some sparkling wine or champagne, fruit puree or juice and mint.

Now I know you’ll love these popsicles, it will be the most sophisticated version of a zooper dooper you’ve ever seen! ;D Enjoy!

 

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A picture is worth a thousand bites

Food photography. It can be a love hate sort of deal. Why are people taking photos of their meal? is a common refrain.

As a chef, a photo of a meal can serve a multitude of purposes – as an example of how you’d like your meal plated so those replicating know exactly what goes where; it can be a testament or bragging rights to your skill i.e. look at what I made and how beautiful it is, or just a record of those moments throughout your culinary career and the plating trends of the moment.

As a diner, a photo of your meal is a moment in time. A first date, an anniversary or a birthday.  Or just because. And the meal was really pretty.

As a blogger if can be a mixture of desires – please enjoy my food and join me in my memories, my daily life and my creativity.

Here are some of my favourite images from the blog:

Food is such a party of our day to day life. For some, a chore, others a delight, whereas for some it doesn’t matter either way. Long before cameras though, food was recorded as still lives in their own right or as props in paintings. They showed us how people of that time ate, what was popular and which people and their status and standing in society could afford to eat. The first social media share of your meal would’ve been an art display or gallery. Think about it 😉

When I read a recipe for inspiration I look not at the ingredients but to the photo’s. It’s like a fashion magazine – an outfit without much hanger appeal suddenly comes to life on a real person in an everyday or even exotic setting. Get the ingredients right and show them to the world and suddenly you’re intrigued. Excited even. Perhaps surreptitiously wiping the drool off the photo page.

Here are some of my fav pics off pinterest that I use as inspiration:

Food photograph is an invitation to an experience. Setting the scene, creating a moment invites you to create your own culinary moments. If you are going to make a cake, why not enjoy all aspects of your creation, from the visual splendor to the wonderful moment your mouth wraps around that spoon and the flavour floods your mouth.

Creating a blog about food and photographing my efforts has changed my experience of creating meals at home. My partner works nights so it is usually dinner for one in this house with his portion left on a plate for later. Not exactly incentive for experimenting and making it look good. But suddenly with an audience I put care in. Sure I could do it just for me but I’m not going to lie. At home I get a little lazy after a day at work. After at least eight hours of putting all my attention into making food look good it get’s a little sloppy when its dinner for one. But put a camera in my hand and suddenly the journey of the ingredients to the plate is something worth putting effort into. Weekly catch ups with family and friends where we swap who cooks dinner and dessert also provides a chance to expand my audience and have some fun.

My favourite photos to take and gaze over though are the ones that tell a story. From ingredient to finished product I love to see the method, the messy bowls, the spoon dug into the dish, the fork wrapped in spaghetti, where I can almost reach my hand into the page and take a bite.

I also love retro food photos that remind me how far food has come. So many chefs love to look back to the 80’s and the gelatinous, brown concoctions that graced the pages of home cookbooks. Sure there were the superstars of the professional kitchens that could elevate these lesser moments of food trends but for the day to day household cooking there were some doozies. But this is the fun of food photo’s. This is itself tells a story of what was happening at the time. What technology we had at hand, what type of utensil people used and the variety of foods available for us.

Some examples of retro (and questionable) food items:

 

Without food photos we couldn’t share in the pure pleasure and delight that is eating something fantastic. Or laugh at the horrible fails. So next time you wonder why on earth someone is taking a photo of their meal just smile and wonder what we will think of these dishes in 10, 20, 5o years time. It may be a head shake like double denim or perhaps it will be remembered as the meal where romance was born or happiness abounded. Either way, I’d want to capture that.

 

 

Baked apple goodness for a winter night

I love vintage tea towels. Especially when they have old school recipes on them that remind you of foods you used to eat when you were young. This was the case with one of my favourites, a cooking with apples tea towel. Bright friendly colours keep you company as you wipe up your dishes but also gave me inspiration for dessert at my friends this week.

As a child dessert wasn’t a bit thing at the end of a meal. Sure there was coffee and biscuits but actual desserts weren’t a big feature so when my mum made her fabulous baked apples everyone was always around the dinner table, the oft used excuses to disappear into teenage bedrooms forgotten. Well for my siblings anyways. Being eight year younger I was always happy to hang around the dinner table with Mum, not having reached the joy of teens years just yet. But I digress. My Dad wasn’t too much of a sweet tooth preferring a slice of cheese and fresh apples after dinner but loved Mum’s baked apples,  so we knew that Dad was in Mum’s good books when they appeared after dinner.  Such a simple dessert but coupled with ice-cream it was such an easy after dinner treat.

Lo and behold my fabulous vintage tea towel featured a similar recipe transporting me back to my childhood. Their recipe also featured glace cherries and brandy made into a sauce with the buttery goodness left behind, a step which I left out because a) I don’t really like glace cherries and b) I thought the caramelised buttery sauce was nice enough without a splash of brandy which I don’t actually have on hand anyways!

So I know I haven’t really revealed the full temptation of a baked apple as yet. Just the title doesn’t really give away the treat it is, so I will explain the very simple method and try and entice you even more. Quite simply, you just core out the apple’s whole, score the skin so it doesn’t burst open and make a mess and then stuff the cavity of the apple with a combination of softened butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Imagine then baking these stuffed apples for about half an hour in which time the butter and sugar caramelise to a butterscotch sauce at the bottom of the pan and the apple flesh cooks down to a soft, sweet filling. No we are talking hey? Now put that delicious apple into a bowl, top with vanilla ice-cream and enjoy! You can thank me later, don’t worry.

Ingredients (serves four)

4 granny smith apples (these bake really well but if you have a favourite apple by all means use them!)

3 tbsp softened butter

2 tbsp brown sugar

pinch cinnamon

Method

  1. Core out the apples and score the skin
  2. Mix the butter, sugar and cinnamon in a bowl until combined and softened
  3. Spoon and push the butter mix into the cored cavity of the apples
  4. Either place the apples in individual ramekins and on a tray to bake or onto a paper lined tray with the edges folded up to catch the butter sauce
  5. Bake at 180 degrees for about 30 min or until the apples have softened
  6. Remove from oven and serve with vanilla ice-cream. If you have baked them on a tray, put into serving dishes and carefully pour over the remaining sauce sauce from the oven tray.

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie!

Dean Martin, I am sorry for using your song as a blog title. Well, not really to be honest because I tragically love that song to death and can often be heard singing it at home. To myself. Shamelessly.

But really, who doesn’t love pizza? When friends are coming over it can be easy to become frantic and wonder what to cook that is easy and sociable at the same time. My solution? Home made pizza. With the abundance of decent pizza bases make your own at home can be a fun experience as you create a topping bar and each guest makes their own pizza ensuring they are happy with the topping and there is a sense of fun to the experience instead of just dialing a number and waiting for a delivery of usually sub average take away pizza.

The great thing about pizza is that the toppings are limited to what you have on hand or really enjoy. Of course, nothing beats tradition such as pepperoni, four cheeses, prosciutto and rocket or margarita but when you are cooking at home I will look the other way when you break the rules, don’t worry.! 😉  I like to keep it simple with my toppings with prosciutto, rocket and Parmesan being my simple go to. My partner is a fan of the everything possible school of pizza toppings but again, this is where compromise is a beautiful thing in that we both get to have pizza our way by making our own.

Home made pizza bases are very simple to make. You can even freeze the excess dough before proving it  to have a quick mid week meal without fuss. Just roll the dough into individual sized balls, wrap well in cling film and freeze for about a fortnight or so before use.

So crack out the mixing bowl and roll up your sleeves to knead as you create you own pizza bases and have a great night in!

Home made pizza base

Ingredients

600g  of flour

1 teasp salt

1 sachet of dried yeast

1 teasp caster sugar

60ml olive oil

375ml lukewarm water

Method

1. Combine salt and flour in mixing bowl

2. Empty yeast sachet into warm water with sugar and mix. Allow to sit for about 5 mins or until mix is foamy and yeast is activated

3. Add olive oil to yeast mix and create well in middle of flour

4. Pour in liquid mix and using a knife cut the flour into the mix until well combined

5. Place rough dough onto floured bench and knead for about ten minutes until the dough is smooth and firm. Alternatively if you have a mixer with a dough hook, place inside and knead on low speed for ten minutes

6. Remove from bowl and place in large clean bowl with oiled sides. Place in warm area and cover with cling film

7. Allow to rise and prove for about 30min – 1 hour until doubled in size

8. Knock back and knead again, separate mix into appropriate size to cover your tray. Usually about 100g of mix will cover a 20cm round tray thinly which is how I like my bases

9. Top with your favourite ingredients and bake at about 180-200 degrees for 10-15 minutes until the base is golden

10. Cut up and enjoy!

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Buying your pumpkin and eating it too! How to make sure you make the most of pumpkins in your fridge

When the weather turns cold you can’t but help to think of warming dishes such as stews, casseroles and roast meats. The usual suspects also feature – roast vegetables. I am a big fan of roast vegetables as to me it brings out the sweetness and flavour of the root vegetables giving them a satisfying and unique flavour.

Alas not all vegetables for roasting are root vegetables and pumpkins are one of the exceptions. Their inviting orange flesh can be used for sweet or savoury dishes and it is very universal vegetable (fruit if we are being particular with the seeds/flowers and all) to prepare.

One pumpkin can be a task to get through for a single person or even a couple, so what do you do when you have a whole or even half a pumpkin rolling around in your crisper?

As mentioned, the most popular choice would be roast pumpkin closely followed by the sweet counterpart of pumpkin scones. Again, these tackle some of the pumpkin’s offerings but how do you utilise it without having an array of pots and pans?

I roasted my pumpkin two ways. One features garlic salt whilst the other is given a spicy kick with a chilli and lime salt. You can roast all the pumpkin at once, but create some different flavours to keep the leftovers interesting. No one really enjoys eating the exact same thing three days in a row and this is a way of mixing up the flavours whilst not wasting your crisper contents.

Another advantage of the roasted pumpkin is that it can easily be transformed into soup and frozen for later. I actually prefer to roast my pumpkins and blend with stock for soup as I feel that just simmering the pumpkins doesn’t bring out the depth of flavour they achieve with roasting. If you have some chicken stock ready to go in the freezer as featured in my last blog, it can be as simple as giving the stock a simmer, blending in the pumpkin and dinner is served. Pretty simple right?

Try also pureeing some of the pumpkin after giving it a steam to keep the water content down and have it frozen ready for scone making or thin it down with the chicken stock as soup for more versatility too.

Roast pumpkin is fabulous tossed through leafy green salads or even in a potato salad for a splash of colour and a kick of flavour. They can also be mashed up and folded through a potato mash for a bit of different side to your roast, sausages or casseroles.

However you like your pumpkins they are great vegetable to keep on hand. Have a go at some of the recipes below and tell me how you went. Happy cooking!

salmon salad

Recipes

Creating your own flavoured salts doesn’t need to be a task. Having a mortar and pestle or even a decent small blender/spice grinder can have your creating fabulous concoctions that bring your dishes alive.

lime salt

Lime and Chilli Salt Roast Pumpkin

Ingredients:

2-3 tbsp rock salt or course salt for grinding

½ tea spoon chilli powder (adjust according to your spicy preference)

Finely grated zest of 1 lime

Method

Place all ingredients into a mortar and pound with pestle until salt is broken up and flavourings are mixed through. If blending, same method applies

NB: You can use the lime juice to pep up the pumpkin once it is roasted. By using the zest you’re releasing all the fragrant oils into the salt

herb salt

Garlic and Herb Salt

Ingredients

2-3 tbsp rock salt

1 tbsp dried garlic

1 tbsp dried herbs – I used my own dried rosemary

Method: Place all ingredients in mortar and pound with pestle until combined

NB: I use dried garlic and herbs as the oils from fresh garlic can make it hard to sprinkle as it will clump together. If you are basting a meat with blend, use fresh garlic as you can then rub it in. The same applies for the herbs. I dried my own rosemary by handing it upside down in a cool area until the leaves became brittle and is stripped them from the stalk and store in an airtight container

pumpkin on tray

Roast Pumpkin Soup

Ingredients

½ roast pumpkin

1l chicken or vegetable stock

4 cloves of roast garlic (if you like, add these with the pumpkin when roasting)

Method

Bring stock to a simmer, blend in pumpkin with stick blender and garlic and season to taste

NB: If you are using an upright blender please do not blend boiling hot stock as it will pop the lid and you can burn yourself – in this instance just ensure your stock is full defrosted if using from freezer or just pour in from the fridge and blend – bring the soup to a simmer once blended.

soup

Chicken stock to beat the winter blues

You can certainly feel the chill coming into the air here in Brisbane. With the chill has come the winter cold into our household. With two residents coughing, sniffling and generally feeling sorry for ourselves it was time to bring out the old cure all, chicken soup. One of the hardest working kitchen staples would have to be stock.

Chicken, vegetable, beef or fish, these are the staples of many sauces, soups and dishes of any chef’s repertoire. So why make one from scratch in your own home? A home made stock can yield much more than a flavourful broth. When I make my chicken stock I use either a whole chicken or chicken legs. Why? I hear you ask. To have the delicious yield of the meat and to further flavour the stock. By making your stock at home you can also add more vegetable and serve them with the meat and you know exactly what’s in the stock.

There are a few guidelines though that will help create a successful stock each time:

– Cleaver the whole chicken or legs through the meat just to the bone to allow the lovely bone marrow to release and flavour the stock. If just using chicken frames gently whack the frames with the back of a knife to achieve the same effect

-Cut your vegetables to serving size so you can spoon these out with the broth and flesh at the end    –

-Use a pressure cooker if you can – the quick cooking method keeps the flavour in and reduces stove time

– Add garlic for cold busting properties

– Parsley is added to stocks for a burst of flavour, if you are cooking a stock for two to three hours add the parsley towards the end to keep the freshness in

– Don’t boil your stock just simmer it – boiling clouds the stocks ad produces a scum which can be skimmed off but a gentle simmer allows the flavours to develop

– With a pressure cooker the stock will only take about half an hour, without one gently simmer your stock for about three to four hours

– The stripped chicken meat can be used in the stock, tossed into a salad or in a roll. It is cooked ready to go so enjoy!

Chicken stock and soup is just the basic starting point for meals. You can use it to create pureed soups such as pumpkin or corn or as a base for casseroles instead of water. In my next blog I will show you how to make no fuss pumpkin soup from left over roast pumpkins. Yum!

For a bit of a spicy kick you can also turn your stock into a Chinese master stock. Sounds impressive but it really is quite simple. The use of fragrant spices turns a simple stock into a complex broth just begging for silky noodles and shredded chicken. The best part of master stock is it can be kept for months in the fridge with a quick boil each week to ensure it doesn’t go off. I use my master stock as a quick meal as well by throwing a few dumplings in and slurping it down. Delicious!

So what’s the recipe? This one uses chicken drumsticks as a) they were on sale and b) if you’re not after a big yield of simmered chicken this is just right. The master stock follows below

 Simple Chicken Stock

Ingredients

6 chicken legs cleavered into bone

3 carrots peeled and cut into 3 cm circles 3 sticks of celery cut into small sections

4 garlic cloves

1 cup parsley stalks and leaves 1

onion cut into quarters  

Method

Place all the ingredients except the parsely into a stock pot

Top with water until covered with about 10cm of water

Bring to a simmer and leave for about an hour before adding parsely

Keep simmering for another two hours Remove chicken from pot, strip from bone

Keep vegetables (celery and carrot) and cut smaller if you like or keep chunky and rustic

Strain stock and cool in fridge if not eating straight away

If using for chicken soup, bring to simmer, add chicken meat and vegetables

Remove from heat, ladle into bowls and enjoy with generous chunks of fresh bread. Winter cold be gone!  

My version of Chinese master stock

NB  I use chicken as the base for this as I eat it with the broth and it gives it some depth. The addition of onion and carrot is also my variation as I like to eat the carrot as well and I feel onion is just delicious in any broth too. Not traditional ingredients but then it’s my version of the recipe so enjoy!

Ingredients

3 litres water

1 Whole chicken or 6 chicken drumsticks

1 brown onion

2 carrots cut into small pieces

½ cup light soy sauce

½ cup chinese cooking wine

¼ cup brown sugar or chinese rock sugar

50g fresh ginger (I sometimes put mine under the oven grill to bring out the flavour)  

Spice Bag – These spices are used to flavour the broth – for easy removal place in a muslin square and secure with string before adding to stock. If I am grilling my onion and ginger first I add the spices for a minute to bring out their flavour

5 garlic cloves

3 cardamom pods

2 cinnamon sticks

10 g (2 tsp) dried mandarin peel (available at most Asian grocers)

4 whole cloves

4 star anise

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 large red chilli  

Method

Place all ingredients into a large pot and cover with water If using pressure cooker, allow to come to steam and drop to simmer for about half an hour

If using stock pot, bring to gentle simmer and allow to cook for 2-3 hours

Remove from stove, discard spice bag, keep chicken meat and carrots, discard remaining ingredient and strain stock

If using as a base for marinades etc, bring to boil before storing in fridge in sealed container

Will keep for a long time (months) if boiled weekly If using as soup, bring to simmer with shredded chicken, carrots, cooked rice noodles and broccoli.Serve with a squeeze of lime juice and a dash of fish stock to taste.

 

Buying a large vegetable – how to make the most of a whole cabbage

Admit it. We have all done it. Impulsed shopped when we are hungry, rushed or just out of ideas. A mad scramble in the vegetable section and you have done your shopping only to come home, unpack the grocery bags and think, now what do I do with all this food?

Routine, stress and busy day can dampen our desire to try something new and think outside outside the square to create dinner. It doesn’t need to be that stressful though. After many years cooking at home and professionally I do have quire  repertoire of recipes and ideas of what to do with certain ingredients. But I am always open to discovering new flavours, new techniques and ideas about creating with food.

One of the most creative aspects of my professional chef years has been any aspect of menu planning. Creating dishes from ingredients that are seasonal, affordable and appeal to the general public can be quite a challenge. It is easy to create a fanciful menu when you don’t need to consider the time it will take to make the recipe, how quickly it can be made on a busy night and how long it will last. There is no point creating a dish that takes two days to prepare, an hour to make it to the plate and only yields a few serves if you a small suburban restaurant as opposed to a fine dining city one.

The same applies to choosing and making recipes at home. Unless you are in the mood for a whole day of cooking or are able to buy daily serves of fruit and vegetables a little bit of meal planning or at least a few ideas of what to do with certain ingredients can go a long way to ensuring you don’t through out half of your produce at the end of the week.

When I shop I usually have ideas in mind of what I will do with the produce I buy. Tomatoes are almost always destined for salad or sliced on a cruskit as a quick snack. most fruits I eat as is and vegetables will be either roasted, steamed or chopped for salad. But what if you’re sick of the same old preparation? Over the next few weeks I am going to endeavor to bring to you a couple of different quick and easy ways to enjoy seasonal fruits and vegetables. Winter is coming (that’s a very Game of Thrones reference I know, apologies!) and with it a smaller selection of seasonal fruits and a change in the variety of vegetables. Fear not though, with a little tweak your grocery list can reflect a combination of staples and surprises to keep dinner time fun and enjoyable. Who wants to eat boring? Certainly not me!

Last weekend I took a trip to the farmers markets to restock our fridge after a few weeks away. As I mentioned the seasonal vegetables for Autumn and Winter are very different to Summer and Spring. The cooler weather heralds the arrival of Broccoli, Cauliflower, Dark leafy greens and Root vegetables. Melons, citrus, apples and pears bring the fruit to the table. In Australia we do have some fruits and vegetables available year round but if you ever wonder why some months the same produce is considerably cheaper than others it is because when they are in season there will be a large availability of them thus the cheaper price. Makes sense doesn’t it?

So what to cook when the weather outside turns cold?

This week it’s all about the humble cabbage. I don’t know about you but my earliest memories of cabbage is the smell of my grandparents house as we came over for Sunday lunch and they were cooking Golabki, a Polish stuffed cabbage dish. They certainly tasted better than they smelt but for a long time I just assumed that was how cabbage was prepared. Either that or shredded and coated in mayonnaise for coleslaw.

So what to do if you’re not a fan of either? Don’t despair and don’t pass over out little cabbage friend. Coleslaw doesn’t need to be synonymous with the sickly sweet mayonnaise laden version you get from the supermarket deli. Nor is that the only way to use a cabbage. Below are three easy recipes with cabbage all set to reintroduce you to this hearty friend and warm your winter bellies. Feel free to adjust as you like with herbs, spices or seasoning as you desire. These are just some simple suggestions so the next time you find a cabbage rolling around your fridge you have some idea of what to do with it. Bon Appetit!

Recipe One: Asian Style Coleslaw

Ingredients (for two)

1/2 sugarloaf cabbage

1/2 cup of picked coriander leaves torn up

1/2 cucumber grated

1/2 carrot grated

1/2 cup mayonaise

2-3 tbsp of thai seasoning mix (Gourmet garden brand)

2-3 tbsp chilli sauce

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Sprinkle of fried shallots (available in Asian food aisle of most supermarkets)

Method

1/ Grate carrot and cucumber on large side

2/ Finely slice cabbage either by hand or on a mandolin

3/ Combine mayonnaise, seasoning and chilli in a bowl. Mix well and adjust seasoning to taste. Add lemon juice and stir

4/ Combine all ingredients in a bowl, coat with dressing and serve as an accompaniment to grilled prawns or chicken as desired. For extra crunch sprinkle with fried shallots or crunchy noodles

Recipe Two: Colcannon (Serves Two)

This Irish potato based dish is delicious with stews or casseroles or with a hearty grilled steak and gravy. Whichever way you like it, it’s sure to warm your belly on a cold night.

Ingredients 
3 potatoes  suitable for mash (desiree potatoes are a good all rounder) peeled and cut into large chunks
1/4 finely sliced sugar loaf cabbage or curly kale as desired
1/4 cup of finely sliced chives or shallot onions (use the green of the shallots as well)
1 cup milk or cream
2 Tbsp butter

Method

1. Put the potatoes into a pot, cover with water and season the water with salt. Place on stove and bring to a steady simmer and allow to cook until fork tender. Usually 15 minutes

2. Drain the potatoes and reuse the pot and return to the stove. Add the butter to the pot and saute the cabbage until softened, season with salt and pepper. Add the shallots or chives, stir through. Fork crush the potatoes in a bowl for a more rustic texture or crush with a masher until at desired consistency.

3. Add the milk or cream, mix well, and add the potatoes. Mix well and add more butter if desired. Check seasoning and adjust if desired. Serve and enjoy

Recipe Three: Braised Red Cabbage 

Braised red cabbage can take on a sweet flavour with the addition of red wine and little brown sugar. It’s a lovely accompaniment to gamey red meat such as duck or kangaroo.

Ingredients: (serves about 4) 

1 medium brown onion, thinly sliced
1 Small head of red cabbage finely sliced
1/3 cup cider vinegar
1/3 cup red wine
1 cup water
2 tbsp brown sugar
1 Granny smith apple grated on large side

Method

1. Heat a medium saucepan, add oil and stir in onion. Sweat the onion until translucent. Add the cabbage  and wet ingredients to the pan and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper. Raise heat to medium-high, cover, and cook  for 5 minutes.

2. Reduce the heat continue to cook the cabbage covered, stirring occasionally. Leave to simmer for about 30 minutes. Stir the apple into cabbage and cook, covered, until cabbage and apples are tender, approximately another 25 to 35 minutes. When the cabbage and apple are tender, remove from heat and allow to sit for about five minutes before serving.