easy dinner

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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The cheek of it all! – Morrocan style beef cheeks

The saying goes ask and you shall receive. My sister in law asked for beef cheeks and she received them – slow cooked with Moroccan style spices until fork tender and served with a side of roast cauliflower and chickpea salad. Clearly she knew who to ask! B;D

Braised meats are a delicious and simple way to create family favourite meals. Whilst they require time to cook, they are not in fact time consuming to prepare. After sealing the meat and creating the liquid for the beef to cook in, beef cheeks are a great meal that can be left to cook whilst you go about your day.

I have cooked beef cheeks a variety of ways over the years they have come back into vogue – from a carmelised sticky deliciousness as a result of being braised in stout beer to a lighter red wine braise to my version with the Moroccan style spices.

Beef cheeks become a beautiful braised meal when left to stew in their own juices – jokes aside, they do really benefit from a long slow cook as the muscle itself is quite tight and when braised whole keep their shape quite well for presentation. You can also use the cooked cheeks for a ravioli or cannelloni filling – just fork shred the tender meat, mix through some leftover braising liquid to moisten and stuff your cannelloni shells or fold into your silky pasta dough. Easy and delicious. If you’re not up to filling your pasta, just fork shred the beef, add some liquid as before and toss through some pappadelle pasta for a lovely ragu style sauce. Topped with some shaved pecorino (a hard goat’s cheese similar in style to Parmesan) it’s definitely a winner for entertaining guests or just enjoying at home.

The accompanying salad was inspired by some very delicious cauliflower combinations I have discovered in cafe’s and health food shops recently. I must admit cauliflower was a vegetable I studiously avoided for much of my adult life. As a child I absolutely hated it. No matter if mum tried to dress it up with creamy sauce and golden melted cheese – underneath was still the dreaded cauliflower florets. What I realised was I really don’t like boiled cauliflower unless it is then pureed into a soup. I tried cauliflower as an adult again in said salads and found myself really enjoying it. It was because the cauliflower was only lightly cooked and still had some crunch. Then I discovered roast cauliflower. Now we were talking. I didn’t assume this could be done – roast a vegetable that is usally steamed or boiled?! But you can and let me assure you, it is delicious.

You can coat the florets with some olive oil and salt and pepper to ensure a nice even golden colour and if you like a bit of spice, add some chilli powder to the salt blend before sprinkling on. The cauliflower takes about 30 mins at 170 degrees to cook to a tender but still firm texture. I popped some baby tomatoes I had rolling around the fridge in and a salad was born.

Don’t be afraid to mix and match salad ingredients to suit your tastebuds either. I added chickpeas, spinach, coriander and flaked almonds to the mix. The dressing? A lovely avocado dressing I found in the local fruit shop – something a bit different to the usual but you could easily whisk up some orange juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil and seasoning for this combo.The dressing just caught my eye so I decided to go with it!

Feel free to experiment and let me know how you you went with your own recipe variations and happy cooking!

 

 

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Undercover Chef Tip – Keeping it Above Board

Wobbly chopping boards – the bane and danger of any kitchen be it household or commercial. Nothing is worse than trying to run your knife over some herbs and the board slips and slides. Or how about when you are trying to dice some meat for a casserole and each slice of the blade sends the board this way and that? Solution -wet a cloth or some paper towel, sit your board on top and chop away! Never risk cutting your fingers again

Shepard’s Pie the chef way

Sous vide. Two simple words that either have you drooling at the thought of luscious proteins or have you going sous what?? Sous vide cooking for clarification is: sous vide

suː ˈviːd/
adjective & adverb
 
  1. 1.
    involving or denoting a method of preserving food by partial cooking followed by vacuum-sealing and chilling.
    “a convection oven can be used in sous vide operations”

Thanks wikipedia! Now we have that clarified (sort of) it essentially entails the slow cooking of proteins in a sealed bag in a water bath of a  maintained temperature not usually exceeding 65 degrees Celsius. Sounds complicated right? it is actually so much simpler than it sounds. I have also heard good things about slow cooking in general and this is sort of another notch up from that. The idea is the low temperature slowly coagulates the proteins and create a soft, unctuous mouth feel as opposed to the quick heat of pan frying or grilling which can toughen proteins if overcooked. My foray into the sous vide method came from Aldi (gotta love it) have a slow cooked/sous vide on sale with a vacuum sealer. Lucky me snatched the last one up on a Wednesday afternoon but I had to order my vac sealer online as these were all gone. Being winter casseroles and stews are always a winner but I have to admit I sometimes feel the meat just kind of cooks and goes a bit, well you know…nothingy. The sauces are always amazing but I just felt the meat could be a bit tastier. So here we were. Me, some diced lamb, a vac sealer and a sous vide. I admit, I had a complete brain fart when sealing the bag…I forgot the whole vacuum part vacuums the contents…including moisture…so a little hint when sealing a bag for any purpose – vacuum when it is just a fillet or protein on it’s own fine – vacuum when you have put a little stock and butter in..not so fine. Just seal. Don’t vacuum. Messy lesson learnt! So now to the fun part. I used diced lamb from a butcher, added some beef stock (not homemade but I have found a range of free range stocks called Momo’s Meal’s which are as true to home made as I have ever seeen), butter, rosemary and garlic and set my temp at 60 degrees for about three hours. The result? Deliciously cooked, soft buttery lamb pieces. Amazing. So how did I turn this into a Shepards pie? Keep reading dear followers and I will reveal how to make Shepard’s Pie the chef way! 😉   IMOK_lamb with blackboard   Shepards Pie (serves four with vegetables on the side or two very hungry people)

Shepard’s Pie the chef way
Recipe Type: Dinner
Prep time: 30 mins
Cook time: 3 hours
Total time: 3 hours 30 mins
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 500g diced lamb
  • 6 cloves garlic (reserve four for roast garlic – see notes)
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 750ml beef stock
  • 2 stalks of rosemary
  • 100ml milk
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 4 potatoes
Instructions
  1. In a vacuum bag place 2 cloves of garlic, lamb, 250ml of beef stock, 2 tbsp butter, salt and pepper
  2. Seal and set at 60 degrees on sous vide for about 3 hours
  3. Remove lamb from bag, strain and keep liquid from bag
  4. In saucepan bring remaining stock to a boil, take out about 3 tbsp and mix into flour to form a paste
  5. Stir paste back into hot liquid and whisk to remove any lumps and thicken
  6. Add juices from bag
  7. Reduce heat and allow sauce to simmer and thicken. Adjust seasoning to taste and cook for about ten minutes over low heat
  8. Whilst sauce is cooking, peel and chop potatoes into cubes. Place in a saucepan and just over with water, salt water
  9. Allow potatoes to come to a simmer and cook until a fork can be pushed through easily
  10. Strain and place in a saucepan with milk and remaining butter. Mash with fork or masher until smooth and hot, add roast garlic
  11. Add lamb pieces back to sauce and allow to simmer for a minute or two
  12. Spoon lamb mix into either individual ramekins or large bowl and top with mashed potato
  13. Cover with foil and grill for two minutes then remove foil to allow to golden under grill
  14. Serve with your favourite green vegetables and enjoy!
Notes
To make roast garlic without having to have the oven on, slice the garlic and simmer in water until just soft. Drain water and add vegetable oil to pan. Cook over gentle heat until golden. A low heat is essential to avoid burning the garlic. The pre-boil allows the garlic to cook before gaining the colour
 

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Hints and tips for dinner party success

Have you ever read a lovely cookbook or foodie magazine and thought, “If Only”. If only I could make that food for friends, if only I could create a lovely table setting, if only if only. Well, what if having a dinner party is easier than you think?

About three weeks ago it was my 30th birthday. A couple factors weighed into deciding what exactly to do for my birthday

1) I am a chef

2) I love to entertain at home

3) I am half Italian

4) I have a courtyard and a brother who also loves to entertain thus access to tables, chairs and a gazebo

I think we all know where this is heading! The decision to entertain at home was a pretty sure thing especially as the guest list was numbering around 25. Now I know some of you reading this would be going into cardiac arrest at the thought of entertaining 25 people…at home! But it can be easy. Well sort of.

Dinner parties do strike the fear of failure into people’s hearts but it doesn’t need to be so. With planning and attention you can make having a large dinner party a breeze. It will be work in regards to planning aspects but at the end you get to kick back and enjoy yourself without having to be kicked out at a certain time. Plus your bed is just a few footsteps away. Magic.

Now to make sure you have a successful party there are some things to consider:

1) Do you have enough room?

There was for me – if not consider renting a hall or other space in your area

2) Is it all weather appropriate? Being a winter party warmth was a priority. K-mart was having a sale on small fleece blankets so I scooped up about 10 for $3 each to keep legs and shoulders warm as gazebos don’t really have the space to have a gas heater under and we weren’t going to eat around a fire so this was a second best thing idea and it actually worked – everyone was cozy. What I didn’t anticipate was the chance of rain. It did spit during set up which created a crazy scramble for shifting the covers and it did eventually rain hard which saw everyone run onto my balcony which was accommodating for sitting and chatting but not eating. Next time I would need to consider splashing out for a marquee just in case or finding an actual venue. So consider the following weather solutions – hand held fans for a summers day (make it a kitsch Spanish theme and it won’t seem out of place!) or pedestal fans placed inconspicuously around, an open fire (there are many great fire pits available from bunnings for a decent price) or gas heaters for winter or just blankets if need be. If it rains will your guests still be dry and comfortable? If there is a lot of sunshine will they get burnt easily or be shaded?

3) Do you need to rent/buy your set-up?

If you have to rent/buy all your tables, chairs, crockery, glasses and cutlery etc are you wanting to spend the $$$ on this? If so, no drama but it is something to consider in your budget. There are many great hire places that can do package deals and even deliver for a small percentage on top.

As aforementioned I could use my brothers tables, chairs and gazebo. The plates, cutlery and glasses I actually owned. Yes…a table setting for 25 people..how? I collect mismatched plates for blog props (check) and cool water glasses on sale (check) and have inherited a couple of cutlery setting between my own, my partners and my families (check check) so that just left table cloths, napkins and decorations to purchase. Easy

4) Are you comfortable cooking?

If you are not a confident cook consider a caterer to help with more complicated aspects or wrangling someone who knows someone who can help.You can make the nibbles or dessert whilst they take care of the main part leaving you to sit and enjoy yourself. Catering may seem like an indulgent choice but if you just need some aspects taken care of, not the whole meal, it can be money well spent. Or if you know someone like me who has an undercover chef package, I can be there on the day helping you along making you feel more confident in your kitchen 🙂 This has been the creation point for this service as I know what it is like to want to have a celebration but not just leave the work to someone else all the time. By having a cehf in your kitchen you can have some tips and assistance without the stress of going alone. Even I had my head chef from work (connections I know!) on hand on her weekend off to help me and join in the celebration at the same time. Otherwise, if you’re really unsure,  share style take-away such as your favourite Indian, Chinese or Thai can be a simple solution for share meals and you just focus on creating a lovely table setting and drinks.

5) Do you have a dishwasher?

I don’t. I did cook a lot of the food the day before but still, 25 people have a lot of plates, platters and some saucepans. I was lucky that a few friends pitched in and got the washing up down between us for a bit before dessert, but had they not the mountain would have been a bit ordinary. Something to consider with larger dinner parties. Hiring glasses and plates or using quality disposable options (there are many nice eco-friendly options available) can take care of the clean up mountain if you choose

6) Do you know how you would like to set the table?

A great party of having a dinner party at home is being able to theme the party and match your table accordingly. My birthday was an Italian feast so I googled, and searched Pinterest for ideas and inspiration. I was going to go the full blown cheesy Italian red checked tablecloths etc etc but I decided to tone it down a touch but still bring a sense of trattoria and tradition to the table setting. Never underestimate your ability to get creative with inexpensive items. My tablecloth? $10 from k-mart but I covered it with a roll of brown paper down the middle as a runner giving it a rustic feel but also toning down the white non-linen table cloth feel. Placemats? I didn’t really want to buy 25 red placemats for this dinner party so solution? Red wrapping paper cut into  placemat sized squares to sit under the plates. I had used tinned tomatoes and white beans in some of the menu so I bought Italian branded ones and kept the tins to hold my grissini sticks on the table. A little rustic touch that recycled my packaging from my ingredients. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to make a big impact. A little creativity can go a long way especially if you have magazines and pinterest at your fingertips. Just don’t get lost for hours like I do! 😉

The real secret to dinner party success? The age old adage of K.I.S.S – keep it simply simple (I know it’s keep it simple stupid but I think that’s a bit mean!) Start off with some basic ideas and menu items and build your way to a party for 25 in no time!

Love some more ideas or someone to lend a hand? Drop me a line at [email protected] to have a chat. Feel free to share some of your dinner party success stories here. Happy dining!

Undercover Chef Tip – You say potato, i say keep it fresh

Do you ever wonder how restaurants have the time to make mashed potatoes, fries, wedges, frittata’s and all forms of potatoey goodness in one day? Well here’s a little secret. We get the potatoes ready ahead of time. Peeling and cutting them and storing them in water allows potatoes to retain their clean white colour. This time saving tip means you can have your potatoes peeled and cut in the quiet times so all you need do is grab them from the bucket and them chop or slice them for a recipe in the busy times. The same idea can be applied to a dinner party. Guests coming over on Sunday? Peel and cut up your potatoes on Friday or Saturday so come Sunday all you need do is drain them, cut them how you like and cook away. Simple!

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

You don’t win friends with salad….but I still love them

Pinterest Calamari

 

The title refers to one of my favourite episodes of the Simpsons wherein Lisa begs Homer to have a vegetarian BBQ and the family starts a song reminding her that ‘you don’t win friends with salad’ yet come summer and BBQ season, a good salad is always appreciated.

So what makes a good salad? To me it is the variety of textures and flavours. I love salads. It is my go to food any time of the year. In winter it is a warm salad with grilled vegetables or baked pumpkin, summer lends itself to crisp lettuce, vine ripened tomatoes and refreshing cucumber.

To flesh out a salad protein such as chickpeas, quinoa or meat is always a good start or a decent serve of carbohydrate such as potato, pumpkin or rice.

Fresh is always best so try to pick the crispest lettuce, nice ripe tomatoes, crunchy celery, green herbs and a variety of colours in your ingredients.

If in doubt, keep it simple. It is easy to throw the whole contents of the crisper in a bowl but there is an elegance in three or four quality ingredients combined and dressed to impress.

My Top Five Salads:

1. Asian Coleslaw – Crunchy, Tangy and add some fresh chilli for a spicy kick. What’s not to love?

2. Greek Salad – The taste of the Mediterranean in a bowl. Creamy fetta marries perfectly with tangy tomatoes and cool cucumbers for a summer treat

3. Baked potato salad – For a twist in the classic, bake your small cubes of potatoes first and dress when warm with a combination mustard and mayo dressing

4. Chickpea and kale – Pack a protein punch with a combination of chickpeas, finely diced red onion, shredded kale and pumpkin seeds for crunch. Top with a lemon juice and olive oil dressing and you’re good to go

5. Broccoli and spinach – Finely chop your raw broccoli, toss with baby spinach leaves and dress it up with flaked almond and dried cranberries. Great for a sunday bbq

 

 

I had a hankering for a seafood salad so I am going to share a grilled calamari and prawn salad. The ingredients are pretty simple and the method quick thus making for an easy mid-week dinner. I love to use fresh herbs in salads to create a bit of punch and flavour but you can always chop them up in a dressing if you don’t like leafy herbs in your dishes.

Ingredients (serves 4)

salad ingredients

4 squid tubes

250 g prawn meat

1 cup shredded wombok cabbage

1/4 large cucumber cut into thin strips

1/2 large capsicum diced into small cubes

1/2 cup of Thai basil and coriander

1/2 cup spinach

1 small can chickpeas

150 g butternut pumpkin sliced

2 tbsp Thai seasoning mix from gourmet garden tube

Juice one medium lemon

2-3 tbsp olive oil

Dressing

3 tbsp sweet chilli sauce

1 tbsp soy sauce

2-3 teasp fish sauce

Juice one lime

1/4 cup olive oil

1 tbsp thai seasoning mix

squid

 

 

Method:

– cut squid tubes in half and cross score. Place in bowl with prawns and marinate with Thai seasoning mix, lemon juice and olive oil for half an hour (I use the tube mix as easy, fresh and no fuss)

– heat grill or fry pan to medium heat, cook sliced pumpkin until soft, set aside

– heat grill or pan to high, sear squid until opaque and almost cooked through, add prawns and cook both until opaque and cooked through

– remove from heat and cut tubes into 5cm strips

– mix salad ingredients together, add squid and prawns

– pour over dressing as desired and enjoy!

 

sallad complete

Recipes for success – five easy ways to choose a great recipe

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!

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