in my own kitchen

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

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

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

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

Let’s start with some basic points to consider:

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

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

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

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

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

knives

2. Is the handle comfortable to hold?

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

hand with knife

3. Is it the right weight for you?

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

knife holding

4. What is the handle made of?

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

knife handles

5. What is the blade made of?

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

knife blade

6. What is the blade edge like?

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

knife edge

 

7. Can you keep it sharp?

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

knife steel

 

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

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

– Spend your money on the knives you use the most

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

 

 

 

 

 

Match Made in Heaven – Salmon, Orange and Fennel

As a chef you learn food matches that are just meant to be – and some that are not. These flavours compliment in their contrast or their compatibility. There is of course science behind this and the plant families etc etc which you can look into if you are so inclined but this is more about the classics that we just learn and know. The trick is to take flavours you know work and make the styling or preparation your own. That’s where your personality comes into your cooking and makes it fun and enjoyable for you. As always, rules are meant to be broken so if you’re a fan of salami and pickle sandwhiches like I am, ignore the naysayers and crack open that jar in the fridge…

Now, to some classic combos:

– orange and fennel

– chocolate and pear (or chocolate and me!)

– garlic and onion

– basil and tomato

– oregano and lemon

– chilli and lime

– lamb and rosemary

– mint and peas

– salt and pepper (jokes)

There are of course a myriad of different combinations that are pleasing these are just an indication. I used fennel and orange as both are in season, the tartness of the orange is great with fatty fish like salmon and watercress has a peppery taste that lifts it all. The sauce was a thin tzatziki for a garlicy creamy punch. Let’s just say Monday night dinner got a little bit fancy.

There’s not a lot to explain with this dish as it was simple and straightforward. Just how we like dinner to be!

IMOK_salmon dinner

Ingredients:

– 6 kipfler potatoes

– 1 baby fennel

– bunch of large watercress

– 2 oranges

– 1/2 cucumber

– 1 clove garlic

– 1/2 cup natural yoghurt

– juice of half a lemon

Method:

Bring the potatoes to the boil whole in a pan with salted water, cook until tender

IMOK_kipfler

Slice the fennel on a mandolin (v slicer for some – available in most kitchen stores or shaving with a knife if you’re able will also do) and place in bowl on top of cut and washed watercress

Segment orange and sprinkle over

IMOK_salad

To make tzatziki grate the cucumber and garlic, add to bowl with yoghurt and mix. Season with salt and pepper and lemon juice. The lemon juice will thin the mixture along with the cucumber juice. If you’d like a thicker dip, squeeze the cucumber in a clean chux or muslin cloth and add to yoghurt adding juice until desired consistency.

IMOK_tzatziki

Slice the kipler into rounds and pan-fry until golden,  pan fry your salmon skin side down (if you like skin on) until skin is crispy, flip to finish and seal flesh side and serve.

I tossed the salad with some olive oil, placed the potatoes down first, then piled the salad up, salmon on top with the tzatziki spooned over as sauce. Yum yum!

A few hints for cooking salmon or any fish really

– cook it flesh side down first if there is no skin on – how do you tell which is the flesh side? the fillet will have a side with almost a silver marking on it, this was the skin side. The flesh side tends to have a plumper appearance – this is the presentation side as such so pan fry this side first for a nice golden colour then flip to the skin side to finish.

– if the skin is on, have a moderate heat to stop the skin sticking and make sure the oil is hot – this applies to cooking in general but it will help stop the skin sticking  – remember it colours quickly so if you blast it with a high heat it may burn, moderate even heat creates the best results

Enjoy!

Not just a pumpkin scone – my mother’s pumpkin scones

pumpkin scone finished v3

 

Well actually, this is a recipe for pumpkin scones, but not just any pumpkin scones, old school recipe from the 60’s pumpkin scones -mmmm. Once again I baked some treats from my mother’s high school recipe book and happened across the pumpkin scones and with a 1/4 pumpkin looking forlorn in the fridge and no immediate use in mind a scone it was destined to become!

A few hints for getting the pumpkin to the mashed stage as per the recipes request

– steam if you can don’t boil: pumpkins already have quite a high moisture content and boiling floods them with even more creating a sloppy mash even if you drain it well – steaming prevents this from happening thus ensuring you won’t need to add a lot of flour to compensate

– if you can, bake the pumpkin at a low heat (150 degrees Celsius) until soft for a lovely texture – the low heat ensures the pumpkin doesn’t over colour

As these are home made pumpkin scones and thus have no preservatives if you’d like to have them for more than a couple of days (if they can stay around that long!) freeze them and defrost and toast for an afternoon tea later in the week. Once again I served mine with apricot jam (its a weakness) and lashings of butter. Delicious!

Ingredients:

2 1/2 cups SR flour

1 cup mashed pumpkin

60 g butter

1 egg

60g sugar

1/2 cup milk

Method

– Rub butter into flour until it resembles fine breadcrumbs

– Make well in centre of flour, mix milk with egg and sugar, fold into flour with a butter knife

– Add mashed pumpkin and mix to soft dough

– The mix will be sticky, flour your hands and use a piece of baking paper to roll the dough out onto

– Once the dough is rolled to about 3 cm thickness cut into rounds with cutter and place on tray

– Brush with milk for a more golden colour if desired

– Bake in oven at 180 degrees Celsius for 10-15 min until golden

– Allow to cool, crack open, butter up and dig in. Yumm….

pumpkin scone ingredients

pumpkin scone dought rolled

pumkpin scone mixed

pumpkin scone finished v3

Chocolate Fondant Pudding

It was my turn to do dessert again and chocolate fondant was the dessert of the day at work so I thought, why not make some for home too? Mmmm….What is chocolate fondant you ask? Well it is a hot chocolate pudding that has a sumptuous melting middle of chocolatey gooeyness. Now who wouldn’t want that?! For a little special twist instead of just using cream or ice-cream on the side I used marscapone and raspberries. Delicious!

Some notes:

– Marscapone is an Italian cream cheese found in the cottage/cream cheese section of the dairy aisle

– Fondants are supposed to be quite runny in the middle so ensure you cook for time given as a few minutes more will cook the pudding through – not a big drama but not really the point of the dessert.

– Ensure you grease the moulds well as the puddings need to slip out easily as if they catch and burst the runny middle will spill out spoiling the surprise – gentle hands also help!

– You can add some instant coffee for a mocha twist

– Brushing butter upwards in a mould creates tracks for the mix to cling to when it rises thus the upwards strokes ensure the batter clings up evenly not to the side and over the top!

The Recipe

200 g dark chocolate – the better the quality the better the dessert – i use Lindt cooking chocolate

200 g butter softened and cut into cubes

200 g caster sugar

4 eggs

4 egg yolks

200 g plain flour

Directions:

1 Grease the moulds for the pudding and coat with cocoa powder or flour for easily removal. Ensure your brush with upward strokes to ensure the puddings rise evenly

2 Place a bowl over a pan of barely simmering water, add the butter and chocolate and allow to melt, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat when fully melted, stir to combine and allow to cool for five minutes

3 Whisk the eggs and yolks together with the sugar until mixture becomes thick and pale,  sift the flour into the eggs, beat mix together.

4 Pour the melted butter and chocolate into the egg mixture in increments beating well between each addition until the all the mix is in and the mixture is completely combined. It willl be slightly runny

5 Pour the mix into the moulds evenly and allow to chill for at least half an hour up to 24 hours in advance. The chilling process assists with creating the crusty outside and gooey inside by keeping the inside of the mix cool whilst the outside cooks

6 Bake the mix for ten minutes until the top is firm and the mix starts to come away from the sides of the moulds. Remove from the oven and allow to sit for one minute before gently turning it out on the plate.

7 To make raspberry marscapone cream whisk some icing sugar into the cream and then gently fold through the raspberries. If fresh raspberries aren’t available I defrost frozen raspberries on paper towel which works just as well.

8 Serve cream to the side with the puddings and enjoy!

Image

Delicious Sticky Date and Walnut Pudding

Winter puddings are some of my favourite desserts. That and chocolate but I’m not always fussy. I have always been a fan of sticky date pudding and after a quick google I found Donna Hay’s recipe and away I went. I always enjoy reading recipes to get some inspiration and ideas and Donna’s recipe seemed simple and easy but I always like to add an element of personal touch. A restaurant I used to work in had a sticky date pudding on the menu which I enjoyed but it had a lot of butter in it so could be a date heavy and greasy at times. We also used to soak the dates in coffee, a twist I still like to do as it adds a little oomph to the dessert. Also in Donna’s recipe she uses a food processor to combine the ingredients. This means the dates will be well incorporated into the dessert thus for a bit of texture I used some chopped walnuts for texture. If you’re not a nut fan you could always hand chop half of the dates and fold these through the batter at the end instead of processing the whole amount.

So the recipe:

pudding finished

sticky date pudding by donna hay

Teaching the art of the ravioli

I recently had the pleasure of teaching my pasta and in turn home made ravioli. We kept it simple with a spinach and ricotta filling but had a great time making it. Amy was so excited to be my first client of the In My Own Kitchen cooking lessons and her only instructions were to teach her something fun and healthy.

The recipe I used for the pasta is a pretty standard ratio and seems to work every time for me which is always a bonus. Depending on the type of flour you use and the size of your eggs on hand (I usually have large eggs) you may need to add one more egg if they are on the small size or a little bit of water in the mixing process if it’s just that bit too dry. Purest would use 00 flour or tipo 00 which is a high protein flour. The higher protein also means higher gluten, the ingredient that creates the chemical reaction in the dough allowing it to stretch and become silky smooth. This of course is a very simplified explanation of how gluten works in cooking and doughs, I’m sure a quick internet search could enlighten you more! 🙂 In any case, normal plain flour will do that trick but it may require extra rolling through the machine to ensure it is silky smooth. Be prepared, pasta making is simple but requires some love and patience to ensure you don’t have lumpy and tough dough.

Some little secrets for lovely pasta – rest it and relax it. Who doesn’t love a nice relaxing lounge around after a good workout?! Same goes with pasta and any dough for that matter. The kneading process is like a good workout, you are creating a frame work of ingredients that are forming together to make your tough. Think if them as muscles that are continually flexing and stretching. Now imagine trying to push those muscles into a shape after all that exercise. Not fun hey? Same goes with doughs. Allow at least 20 mins of resting, covered in cling film so it doesn’t dry out. This gives the dough time to relax the frame work and do it’s thing. In savoury and sweet pastry making this ensures the dough doesn’t shrink in your pan or mould due to the pressure the framework is under. The result? Silky smooth not shrunk dough. How does it get any better than that? You make ravioli of course!

Pasta can be flavoured with other ingredients such as spinach, lemon zest or lemon oil (just replace the olive oil in the recipe), herbs and colourings such as beetroot powder or squid ink. For ingredients such as spinach, it contains a high level of moisture so ensure you drain it thoroughly once cooked to ensure your dough doesn’t get sloppy. Hard herbs such as rosemary and thyme need to be chopped finely to ensure they don’t tear the dough when rolling as they aren’t as flexible. Otherwise open the pantry and experiment. One may even say, show me the dough!

Image

Right, to the ravioli – the recipe:

Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli

Ingredients:

4 cups of plain flour

4 eggs

1-2 tbsp olive oil

1-2 tbsp water

500g spinach chopped

250g ricotta

3 cloves garlic – crushed

1 small onion diced

Salt and pepper

Method:

Pasta – place flour on bench and create small well in middle of flour mound

In a cup crack out eggs and whisk in olive oil and water

Slowly fold flour into eggs until mix comes together as rough dough

Start to knead the dough for about 5 – 8 min until the dough is soft and smooth – you can use a mixmaster, kenwood or kitchenaid with the hook attachment as well although i find you need to bring your dough together first and then place in the machine for smaller quantities.

Cover with cling film and place to side to rest for 10-15 minutes

Filling:

Saute onion in a pan until starting to soften, add garlic and continue cooking until golden and soft

Add spinach and allow it to wilt down, remove from heat and allow it cool to room temperature

When cooled, add ricotta, salt and pepper and set in fridge whilst making pasta

To assemble:

Break dough into smaller portions and roll pasta through machine starting at dial one and progressing to dial 5, creating long sheets NB: I used the attachment for my kitchen aid although you can find cheap and cheerful pasta machines in most cookware shops – a little more elbow greases is required but still creates great pasta!

Place sheets down on floured bench and spoon mix out even rows approx 2-3 cm apart

Brush around the filling with water or 1 egg yolk beaten to create a seal

Lay a second sheet of pasta over the sheet with filling and press down around the filling

Cut into squares around the filling and pick up each pillow and press around to seal fully

Ravioli is ready to cook

NB: Ravioli can be frozen raw when laid flat on trays with cling film separating each layer

 If the pasta tears when making ravioli discard torn portion as any holes or rips will cause the filling to come out

Pasta sheets can also be cut into circles to make ravioli for a dinner party look

To cook:

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil

Gently place ravioli into pan ensuring there is plenty of water and room for the ravioli to move around

Allow to cook for approx 5 minutes or until pasta is soft to the bite

Remove from water with slotted spoon and place in oiled dish ready for sauce

Ravioli fillings are as limited as your imagination – keep it soft though for ease of handling

Some suggestions:

– sweet potato, marscapone and caramelised onion

– chestnut, chicken and sage

– rabbit and thyme

– pumpkin and walnut

Most importantly, have fun, for that is what cooking is about 🙂