imok

Salted Caramel Sauce

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! 

 

Now for the recipe:  

 

[yumprint-recipe id=’8′]

The proof is in the pudding

What to have for dessert. Almost as much a quandary and what to have for dinner. I’ll admit I have bought and cooked my share of frozen desserts before. Why? Laziness to be honest. Sometimes I convince myself that is too hard to make a dessert from scratch so I buy an apple pie or pastry and bake it. Of course I am more often than not disappointed in the dessert and wish I had just baked my own but alas, there we are.

So what do you do when you just couldn’t be bothered but you’d prefer not to buy a frozen dessert? Pudding. Puddings are some of the simplest and easiest desserts to make. Four or five ingredients, stirred, put into a mould and baked. Like a cake but with less pressure and you don’t have to ice them. Self saucing puddings are even better. The accompaniment is baked into the dish for you! All you need do is sprinkle some berries or whip some cream and voila, an easy peasy dessert is made. Of course you can also buy frozen self saucing puddings but you really don’t need to when they are so easy to make.

I baked mine in individual pots to make serving easier and more attractive. Puddings don’t look that elegant when spooned out onto a plate so for a dinner party dessert, individual pots are the way to go. At home by yourself and wish to have something warm to eat? By all means, grab a spoon and tuck in straight from the dish. I do 😉

So, to the recipe:

Ingredients (makes four individual puddings)

1 cup of self raising flour or 1 cup of plain flour and 1 teaspoon of baking powder

2 tbsp of cocoa powder

1/2 cup sugar

80g butter

1 large egg

For the sauce

3/4 cup brown sugar

2 tbsp cocoa powder

1 1/4 cups of boiling water

Method:

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees
  2.  Sift the flour and cocoa into a bowl. Stir in the sugar until combined
  3. Melt the butter and allow to cool slightly
  4. Whisk the egg and milk together in a jug, add the melted butter and combine
  5. Pour the mix over the dry ingredients and stir well to combine
  6. Spoon the batter into individual ramekins and place onto oven proof tray
  7. Pour the boiling water over the sugar and cocoa powder, mix until combined sugar is dissolved
  8. Carefully pour the sauce mix over the back of a spoon onto the top of the pudding batter. The liquid should reach just under the lip of the ramekin
  9. Place the tray carefully into the oven and bake for approximately 15-20 minutes until the puddings have risen and the liquid has cooked through. The puddings should be soft to touch and spring back when touched.
  10. Remove from oven, allow to sit for 2 minutes and serve with cream or ice-cream and berries
  11. Enjoy!

Daily decadence doesn’t mean you’re a slave to the stove

 

 

Creating and preparing food is a part of my life. I’ll admit, some days when I get home from work buttered toast is about as bothered and I feel like being. It all comes down to one question though.

What to have for dinner? Everyone has lamented this question at least once. More often than not the answer to this question is to make the usual go to meal. Busy lives, limited time and other things to do can take you away from the stove and experimenting with something new.  Not to mention the cost of new ingredients and the risk of it not working. Time and money wasted.

What if the decision could be made easier by changing up the favourite dishes you have to create a new take on the skills you already have? Trying something new doesn’t have to mean creating a whole new dish. You know what you, your partner or possibly the family  like to eat. These are the keys to a fabulous meal. Fresh ingredients can lend themselves to all sorts of meals. Bolognese sauce can be teamed with spaghetti, made into lasagne or rolled into arancini. A whole chicken can be broken down into pieces to create stock, breast pieces for schnitzel, the thighs for stir fry. With a little know how creating new meals can be easy.

This week I had the pleasure of creating a meal for my friends and of course comes the question – What to cook? Roast chicken pieces came to mind, a Greek salad and some potatoes. A simple meal really. What can make the difference is the way it is cooked and prepared. Greek salad can be fancied up with a few simple tricks. Instead of cutting everything into cubes you can mix it up. Slice the tomatoes, make cucumber ribbons, thin strips of capsicum and crumbled fetta, all of a sudden the simple salad is a worthy side dish. Roast potatoes? Cut them into uniform wedges and they will happily sit on the plate below the pride of place roast chicken pieces. Set the table with cutlery, napery and a water glass and suddenly the meal becomes an elegant dinner without taking more than an extra ten minutes to bring some care and attention to your meal.

 

Simple ingredients for a delicious meal

We easily assume that a decadent meal must include ingredients such as truffle, expensive wine, wagyu steak and more. Perhaps for some, but not always. What if decadence is just sitting at a table, savouring each bite and enjoying the fruits of your labour. What if decadence is about just stepping it up a notch from your usual repertoire with a tweak that has your family clamouring for more. Or just you licking the bowl for seconds 😉

Stepping it up a notch can be easier than you think. Remember your favourite childhood meal? I used to love when my mum cleaned fresh squid from the fish monger and sauteed it with garlic and parsley. So simple. Stepping it up a notch? Grill it on a bbq, squeeze on some lemon and create a herb salad with some cucumber ribbons, roast cherry tomatoes, pickled red onions and suddenly you have a bistro esque meal all in the comfort of your own home.

Where to find your inspiration? Books, magazines and cooking shows can give you inspiration for different meal ideas. Chefs often look at other menus, current magazines and online forums for new trends and methods. Food has seen so many trends come and go. What remains though are the skills and techniques behind the dishes. Like a helping hand in the kitchen from someone who has many a meal under their belt? Drop me a line and I can show you how. Happy eating!

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!

IMOK_signature dish

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’.

IMOK_evoobals

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.

IMOK_dressings

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!

IMOK_vegetables

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.

oven

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

pasta

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.

chocolate

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.

hollandaise

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

What herbs suit which dish? Taking the guesswork out of the recipe

Sugar and Spice and All Things Nice – That’s what girls are made of…so what are great dishes made of? Certainly not bugs and snails and puppy dog tails. Well, not in my kitchen anyway! One of the requests that was made recently was some more information into what herbs match what types of dishes. There are no hard and fast rules for what herbs suit what dishes but there are some general guidelines for what herbs will enhance and bring out the flavour of certain dishes.

So, some guidelines:

Hard vs soft:

Herbs usually fall into two categories, hard and soft. Hard herbs are those with thicker woodier stalks such as thyme, bay leaves and rosemary. Soft herbs are the more fragrant types such as basil, parsley and mint. The soft herbs are quite fragrant and tender and are lovely to eat as is when young and tender. The more mature leaves can be used in cooking. By their very nature soft herbs are best used in dishes that don’t require long cooking times such as casseroles or soups unless stirred through at the end of the cooking as their flavour is easily lost when cooked out. Hard herbs such as rosemary and thyme on the other hand are lovely when cooked out and this slow process serves to release the fragrance from the woody stalks and oily leaves.

Thus as a general guideline – making a salad, stir fry or dessert – think soft – add a punch of freshness and fragrance with basil, coriander, mint and parsley. Making a casserole, roast or stew – think hard such as rosemary or thyme

Some cuisines enjoy certain herbs

Certain herbs lend themselves to certain ingredients and cuisines. This is a general guide and by no means a complete outline

– Thai and Vietnamese dishes use punchy herbs such as coriander, Thai basil and mint for a fresh and uplifting balance

– Italian dishes use parsley, basil and thyme

– Middle eastern dishes use coriander, mint and parsley

– French cooking uses thyme, fennel, chives, marjoram

Fresh is lovely but dried has it uses

As a general rule fresh is best in cooking but dried herbs have their uses and appeal. Just as fruits and vegetables are seasonal, so too are some herbs. They have their time to go to seed and regenerate thus can be more mature in flavour which for fragrant herbs such as mint isn’t always appealing. Herbs that retain their intensity whilst being dried include parsley, thyme, rosemary, mint and oregano. Why use dried I hear you ask? In casseroles dried herbs can release their flavour with the slow cooking process. Dried herbs are also less likely to burn thus are a lovely addition to a crumb for schnitzel style dishes or in marinades and rubs where the cooking process is longer than a quick stir fry. There is also a convenience to dried herbs. How many times have you bought a bunch of fresh herbs, used some of it and forgot the rest until you find a sad looking bunch of something at the bottom of your fridge. For me, too many times! Dried herbs have a much longer shelf life thus allowing you to use a little and retain the rest.


Have fun

Personal taste will dictate what you use and how much and how often. Have fun with it and enjoy the fruits of the garden and giving your food some punch without the hassle

As a final guide, here’s a list of common herb uses as outlined by Australian Good Taste Magazine. It is a pretty comprehensive list thus it’s inclusion. Happy cooking! 🙂

Basil

  • Blend the slightly spicy aromatic leaves with olive oil, pine nuts and parmesan to make pesto.
  • Use whole basil leaves to top a tomato bruschetta, or tear and add to tomato-based pasta sauces.

Purple basil

  • Tear the pretty, spicy-flavoured purple leaves and add to Mediterranean-style salads.
  • Add whole purple basil leaves to dishes that feature rice and pasta to add extra colour and flavour.

Thai basil

  • Add the slightly peppery flavoured leaves to noodles for an Asian-inspired salad or use them as a garnish for curries.
  • Team it with beef or lamb in South-East Asian dishes.

Chives

  • Chop, then sprinkle this mild onion-flavoured herb over dips, fish, chicken and salads.
  • Add chopped chives to omelettes and scrambled eggs.
  • This herb is best added at the end of cooking.

Continental parsley

  • Also called flat-leaf or Italian parsley, it’s milder than curly parsley.
  • Chop leaves and use in tabouli, gremolata or salsa verde.
  • Use the strong-tasting stems to add great flavour to stocks.

Curly parsley

  • Combine with mayonnaise, then stir through a potato salad.
  • Finely chop, then add to a lemon butter sauce. Drizzle over fish or chicken.
  • Use as a retro garnish, especially for dishes that feature eggs.

Coriander

  • Use the stems and leaves of this herb in Asian and Middle Eastern inspired dishes.
  • Chop the stems and add to Thai-style curry pastes.
  • Sprinkle the leaves over spicy chicken and seafood dishes.

Curry leaves

  • Fry the spicy-flavoured leaves with Indian spices and add to curries.
  • Grind the leaves and add to curry pastes.
  • Team the leaves with prawns, lentils, potatoes and fish.

Dill

  • Add the feathery leaves, with a subtle anise aroma, to a New York style smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel.
  • Use dill to add flavour to dishes that feature egg, potato and fish, such as gravlax.

Oregano

  • Chop this mild-flavoured herb, with a slight lemony aroma, and use in tomato-based sauces.
  • Sprinkle over Mediterranean vegies before roasting, or use in moussaka and Greek-style dishes featuring feta, chicken or fish.

Mint

  • Try this refreshing herb in both sweet and savoury dishes.
  • Add chopped mint to a bowl of berries or mix it with ice-cream.
  • Combine mint leaves, lemon rind and ginger to make a herbal tea.
  • Team with chicken, fish or lamb.

Marjoram

  • This herb looks similar to oregano, but it has a slightly sweeter taste.
  • Pick the leaves and add to Mediterranean-style salads.
  • Use in dishes featuring mild cheese, such as bocconcini.

Rosemary

  • This woody herb with a slight camphor aroma is best when added to a dish and cooked.
  • Add sprigs to dough for making scones, biscuits or focaccia.
  • Use in dishes featuring parmesan, chicken and tomato.

Sage

  • Add this herb to stuffings for roast meats, such as lamb, but don’t use too much as the flavour is strong.
  • Sage also works well with pork and rich dishes that feature onion and butter.

Tarragon

  • Use this slightly tart tasting herb to flavour bearnaise sauce (see related recipe).
  • It works well in French-style cuisine, especially in soups and sauces, but the best flavour matches are chicken and fish.

Thyme

  • Use this robust-flavoured herb in slow-cooked dishes.
  • Add the whole sprigs to a beef or lamb casserole.
  • Use the leaves in wine-based dishes, such as sauces, marinades or French onion soup.

Source

Australian Good Taste – September 2008 , Page 108

Let Them Eat Cake (birthday cake that is)

It was my boyfriends birthday recently and course we had to celebrate with cake! What is a birthday without cake after all! I have always enjoyed making birthday cakes for friends and family and watching their delight as everyone sings a song in their honour whilst embarrassing them with how off tune it all is. These days birthday cakes know no bounds as flights of fancy in icing have seen the rise of more and more creative baking feats achieved. I prefer to make simple cakes but I do enjoy the fruits of other peoples labour don’t worry! For this birthday as Davin loves cheesecake and chocolate what better way to combine the two to celebrate his day than this chocolate cheesecake recipe.

This recipe was given to me by my sous chef at Il Centro Brian. He has cooked this for his lady and her friends and due to their rapturous response deemed this recipe a winner. From the response of Davin and his family and my own enjoyment, I’d have to agree. His version has white chocolate but I am more of a milk/dark chocolate fan so went with that. Traditionally cheesecakes are either baked or set with gelatine but the addition of butter plus the chocolate to this recipe allows it to set firm in the fridge without the use of gelatine. This is particularly handy if you don’t have gelatine on hand or don’t use it often enough to buy for one cake. Feel free to stir through some berries of chocolate chips or whatever ingredients take your fancy to make it your own.

Chef’s Notes:

– A food processor makes turning the biscuits into crumbs easier by far but if you don’t have one there is the old fashioned way that my mother and I used to do which is put the biscuits in a bag and crush with a rolling pin or meat hammer until crumbly. I recommend this method after a stressful day.

– A springform pan is the one where there is a leverish catch in the side with releases the band away from the base. This is to allow easy release of the cake from the pan, especially as it quite delicate and flipping it out as per a normal cake may cause it to break. If you don’t have one of these tins, ensure you line a cake tin with baking paper and ensure you have a long piece of paper that overlaps the side of the pan to lift the cake out

– With baked cheesecakes the base is baked for a few minutes before being left to cool. This is to ensure the base doesn’t melt back into the mix when baking, a step no necessary with cold set cheesecakes

– If you can’t find mascarpone, ricotta will suffice. The addition of the mascarpone adds a little tartness and a lighter creaminess than just cream cheese by itself

So, without further ado, the ingredients:

100g sugar

200g chocolate (white, milk or dark)

300ml pure cream

200g marscapone

250g cream cheese

100g butter

200g biscuits of your choice (arrowroot, chocolate, ginger snap)

2 teas sp vanilla

Method:

1. Melt chocolate and 30g of butter together and stir until combined

2. Process biscuits until fine crumb. Melt remaining butter and mix through biscuits until evenly coated.

3. Line spring form tin with baking paper to ensure clean release and press biscuit mix into base of spring form tin until even. Place in fridge for at least 15 minutes until firm.

4. Whip sugar and cream cheese together, add cream and whip together. Fold together with mascapone, add melted butter and chocolate mix  and stir through gently.

5. Pour on top of biscuit base and cool until firm, approximately 2-3 hours or overnight

6.  Decorate as desired – I used freckles or you could use strawberries, berries, crumbled chocolate or biscuits, whatever you fancy

7. Cut a big slice, sit down and enjoy every bite!

Easy Peasy Lamb Burgers

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

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

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

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

Ingredients:

– 1 Packet of lamb mince (usually 500g)

– 1 eggplant

– Two carrots

– 1 Capsicum

– 1 red onion

– 1/4 cup chopped parsley

– Moroccan or otherwise seasoning of your choice

– 2-3 slices of bread or one bread roll

Method:

1. Soak bread in just enough milk to cover

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

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

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

5. Fold through mince until well incorporated

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

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

8. Assemble burgers or wraps with toppings of your choice

9. Assume burger grip and tuck in

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

IMOK_collage chef

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

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

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

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

– my grandfather’s Sunday pork roast and apple sauce

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

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

– warm jam donuts from the polish church canteen

– poppy seed stollen and other cakes whose names I forget

When I think of my dad i think of

– A garden groaning with vegetables

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

– Pasta in all forms

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

– Percolated coffee and numerous biscuits for dunking

My mother evokes

– Handmade pasta and biscuits

– Apple tea cakes

– Crostoli and donut balls

– Spaetzle and chicken broth when we were unwell

– Pickled cucumbers and grilled vegetables

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

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

collage

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

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

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

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

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

IMOK_signature dish