Sweet buttery caramel with a touch of saltiness. It’s one of those flavour combinations that take you by surprise. Sweet and salty together? I was a skeptic but when the balance is created well it really is divine.
There are a couple of keys to success when making salted caramel sauce:
1. A deep heavy based saucepan – make sure you use a very clean (no food bits at all or burnt areas) heavy saucepan when making caramel. Why? If there are burn marks or food remnants this will taint the caramel and create burnt not caramelised sugar. The heavy saucepan also ensures an even cooking and prevents the sugar catching on the side and burning in spots. Why deep? See the next point
2. Have your cream warm – cold cream plus hot caramel equals a hot, dangerous mess. Adding any liquid to hot caramel requires care and attention and having warm cream reduces the risk of the hot caramel overflowing in your pan. A deep pan will also ensure that the caramel doesn’t bubble up and overflow – and bubble up it will
3. Take your pan off the heat when adding the cream – the caramel will keep cooking even when off the heat so by removing the direct heat source you will stop the cooking process from the source and add the cream safely
Please though, be aware when making caramel that it become extremely hot – when it becomes caramel stage it can be at temperatures of over 110 degrees celsius – plus with caramel it sticks to the skin and keeps burning. So how do you keep safe when cooking with caramel?
1. Use a long handled wooden spoon – this will prevent the sugar from conducting heat into the spoon and will keep your hands well away from the caramel
2. Have a container of ice water ready – if you do happen to drip a little caramel sauce on yourself plunge the area straight into the icy water – it will harden the caramel and stop it from cooking on your skin
Don’t let this safety tips deter you from cooking – I just like to educate you on how to keep safe in the kitchen!
The last thing you want to do sometimes after a busy day is to prepare your vegetables for dinner – so how do you get your greens without having to stand in the kitchen for even longer? When you get them home from the market or shops top and tail them so they are ready to go. That way you can grab them for a snack, chop them roughly for a salad or steam them up for a side dish. Easy!
Nothing is worse than creating a nice meal and have it go cold because the weather outside is a bit chilly. So how do you keep your food as warm whilst you eat? Warming plates under a low grill before you put your food on allows the food to stay warm whilst you eat without having to microwave it again whilst you are plating up the food for everyone. Just make sure you check your plates are safe to be heated and make sure you don’t blast it under a high grill, just allow them to warm gently under a low grill and take care to handle with them with a cloth. Plate up your food and relax because it will stay warm and taste delicious!
As a lover of food, chef and blogger extraordinaire *tongue in cheek* I am always on the lookout for recipe inspiration. There are some go to favourites that allow you to know what’s in vogue/season/trending which is always interesting to read if not inspirational. Gourmet traveller and Vogue Food and Travel are great monthly mags that keep me up to date and Donna Hay and delicious are great for everyday recipes, but what about recipe books?
Spending $4-$10 on a magazine doesn’t seem quite the hefty investment an $80-$100 recipe book is. So how do you choose? How do you literally choose a recipe for success, a book of go to ideas that are sure to impress your guests? I have five different components to look for when finding a recipe for success
1. Method in the madness – How is the dish cooked?
Whilst the photos will draw you in, I always read the methods. If I as a chef can sense complex methods and too many ingredients in more than one recipe, I have to either a) really enjoy the author’s food having made a recipe before or b) have found a book in a genre I’d like to learn so I am prepared to spend the time creating the dishes.
Taking notes on recipes and methods that work for me and had worked for my mum
2. Inspiration and Food Porn – Does it look great and does it make you want to cook it?
My problem is that despite being a stickler for the methods, I don’t always follow the exact rules. It’s a habit that pertains to other areas of my life. Sewing and following a pattern? Some of the time. I usually do my own little thing to it. Paint by numbers? Not a chance. But then this is how I create food that is authentically mine. I like a good and clear method so I can clearly grasp the concept of the dish, the reasons for adding something or making it just so. From there I can alter to suit my tastes, palate and preference. Beautiful photos give me a sense of the dish and how it comes to fruition from the ingredient list. They say a picture is worth a thousand words and photo that makes you drool is worth its weight in culinary inspiration and success. A word of warning though – food styling is full of tricks so what you see may not always be the whole truth – as with the method use it as a guide and don’t judge yourself for the finished product – it is made by you therefore fabulous by default!
Two of my favourite cookbooks both for the actual food and the stunning images
3. Watching the clock – How long will this really take?
The lament I have often heard from my family and friends is how long it took to make something. The fact that Jamie Oliver’s 30 minute meals have been a roaring success is a no brainer. The marketing almost does itself. Dinner is a half hour or less? Yes please! Now I know he makes sure certain elements are in place like a hot oven, a boiled kettle and utensils ready, but really, this is what chef’s do every day to make sure creating the delicious food you enjoy doesn’t take three hours to get to your plate after ordering. Realistically though it shouldn’t take you any more than an hour to create one of those dishes. Dishes that are labour intensive can be tedious and remove the joy from the final outcome unless you are truly in the mood. Check how long the dishes will take and whether they are the type of time frames you like to worth within.
Jamie – making dinner quick and easy
4. Kicking it Old School – Tried and Tested recipes
My favourite recipes and recipe books are more often than not the old school traditional ones. Great sauces, jams, chutneys, relishes, mayonnaises, dressings are the building blocks to a great meal. These are the final touches that can elevate a piece of lettuce to the piece de resistance! A slight exaggeration perhaps but you get my drift I’m sure. The great thing about recipe books such as those from Australian Women’s Weekly and Marie Claire is that they test and test and test their recipes before release. This ensures the recipes are tried and true and able to be replicated in a home kitchen. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe and realising you need a special piece of equipment that you don’t have.
One of the most comprehensive guides to ingredients and what to do with them from Stephanie Alexander. Fabulous stuff. Australian Women’s Weekly making entertaining easy. Just like it should be.
5. Step Back in Time – Retro and classic cooking to remind you just how much food has evolved
Sometimes too it is fun to scour for retro and vintage cookbooks. There is certainly a large selection of microwave cookbooks in second hand stores. Microwaves were initially seen to be the time saving life savers busy people who love to cook were looking for. People were poaching eggs, steaming veg and making microwave cakes like it was going out of fashion. Thankfully it did as I don’t feel you can really recreate conventional cooking methods in a microwave. Other amusing finds in retro recipe books are the ingredients that are used and the way they were presented. Curly parsley, paprika, lemon wedges were food items elevated to pride of the dinner table. Liver, onions, tinned asparagus and pastry encrusted items filled the pages. Now foams, gelee , sous-vide poaching and spherification are all the methods a home cook needs to master to emulate restaurant style food. Or so it would seem.
The best ever recipes, classically retro and stylish
So how do you create a recipe for success in your own home without trotting out the same meatloaf that your grandmother made and seeming behind the times? Take it up a notch of course. Recipes can recreate classical combinations and ideas in a way that is more current, clean and interesting. You can take the elements you are familiar with and present them in a way that looks like it was lifted out of the pages of the latest foodie magazine.
It can be very easy to fall into a cooking rut, thus dishes which are simple and easy to make become high on rotation. It doesn’t always have to be so though. It can be remarkably easy to tweak minor components of a dish to make a major change and that’s the beauty of recipe books, research and inspiration. You see something in a new light and all of a sudden you’re eating interesting again.
Need a hand updating your culinary skills? Feel free to throw a challenge my way to update a family recipe to a new dish or a new way of presenting it and I will blog it here.
Otherwise enjoy the hunt for a great recipe book and I hope the recipes I feature here become favourites too. Happy eating!
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