Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Winter Truffles

On our recent trip to Tasmania, I was so excited to see fresh truffles for sale at the farmer’s market. I absolutely love them, and being such a rare (and expensive!) treat, it isn’t very often that you see them available for the average shopper to purchase as a raw ingredient. A friend recently asked me what truffles taste like – hmmm... hard to pin down, as they have a really unique flavour and aroma, and if you asked 50 people you would probably get 50 different answers. My personal description would be - earthy, pungent, a bit mushroomy with the undertones of Autumn leaves and Patchouli. They can be a bit of an acquired taste, but that dark, rich character really appeals to me. If truffles were a subculture, I reckon they would be Goths - dark, brooding and mysterious!

A truffle is actually the fruit body of an underground fungus called Ascomycete, which grows in a symbiotic relationship around the root systems of trees, most commonly oaks. They are harvested by special truffle dogs that are trained for this purpose. The truffle seller I spoke to at the market told me that his truffle dogs are so well trained, that they can smell whether or not the truffles are mature and ready to harvest, and will leave the ones that aren’t ready to dig up. Clever dogs!
Australia’s very first black truffles were grown near Deloraine in Northern Tasmania in 1999. This is where the truffles at the market came from. The area is ideally suited to a longer, colder growing season – which means truffles with a stronger, sweeter aroma than those grown in warmer climates. This makes Tasmanian truffles much sought after for their taste and quality.

Fresh Tasmanian Black Truffles

Once harvested, truffles should be eaten within about 10 days. Being a living organism, once taken away from their source of nourishment, they start to break down. A truffle will lose about 3% of their weight a day, once harvested. They should be stored in the fridge, wrapped loosely in paper towel, in a glass jar with a lid. This will prevent the whole fridge and everything in it being overcome with truffle!

Now let’s talk cost. The current market price for truffles is $2000 a kilo. Yep. $2000 smackeroos. That was the going price of the black beauties I found at the market. But as the truffle farmer reminded me, you would normally only serve around 6-8 grams per person. Well.....when you put it that way.....  And yes, I succumbed. We bought 50g worth. I used the excuse that it was a treat because we were on holidays.
That night I made a classic Italian truffle pasta dish. Simple and heavenly. Just spaghetti cooked al dente, good butter, finely shaved truffle, a little Parmesan and salt and pepper. So decadent, so aromatic - downright sexy! I used half of the truffles we bought, and took the other half home with us to enjoy a week later.

Tasmanian Black Truffle Pasta

The truffle season in Tasmania goes from June to September, so now is the perfect time to enjoy them if you have the opportunity to. And yes, they really are all that.

The black truffles we bought were from Truffles of Tasmania. I notice that they do sell them online, so if you are dying to experience the Tasmanian truffle season without leaving your kitchen, you can get more information here: http://www.trufflesoftasmania.com.au/
A word about truffle oil Oh boy. Where do I begin? The first thing to say is that the vast majority of "truffle oil" that you see for sale hasn't ever been anywhere near a real truffle. Sorry folks, but that's the reality. It's frequently just synthetically made from a compound called Dithiapentane, mixed together with some olive oil and flogged off to unknowing punters.  At first sniff, it's kind of like the smell of truffles, but the taste? Well, it aint' nothing like the real thing. Frankly, I find it cloying and absolutely vile - I really don't know why people still insist on ruining perfectly good ingredients with the hideous stuff.

Having said that, you can buy truffle oil that is legit - that is, oil infused with actual truffles. It tastes very different to the awful fake stuff that currently floods the market, and used judiciously can actually enhance rather than trash the right dish. Read the labels and ask questions - if the ingredient list mentions "truffle flavour" or "truffle essence" then it is fake. For Australian Gourmet Goddess readers, I do know that the truffle oil from the Simon Johnson label uses the real thing (the oil is infused with French truffles). I'm sure there are others - so do your research and buyer beware. 

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Monday, June 30, 2014

Seafood Chowder

We have just returned from a gorgeous week long winter escape to Tasmania - just the thing to bring a bit of joy to what is often mid year blah-ness. I was lucky enough to win return flights to Hobart courtesy of Destination Tasmania, so the trip was an unexpected and much welcomed surprise. We had already decided there would be no trips for us this year, as we saving to buy a house over there, but it seems that the Goddess had other ideas and so off we went!

Tasmania in winter is just beautiful - cold? well yes.... we actually got snowed on as we stood on the banks of an alpine lake taking in the pristine beauty of it. Little snowflakes fluttering down on a face numbing wind. Breathtaking - literally! But with the harsh winter, there is also a lovely cosy feel too - the smell of wood smoke and open fires, everyone rugged up against the cold. And of course, plenty of seasonal comfort food - which is the inspiration for today's recipe.

Filled with fresh seafood and flavoured with leeks and eschallots, my seafood chowder will more than warm the cockles of your heart - especially when served with warm crusty bread on a cold winter night. I used fish, scallops and prawns for my version, but you can use any seafood really. It is also beautiful with the addition of mussels and clams. For a budget friendly version, you can use just fish and it will still be delicious.

As well as my chowder recipe, I also wanted to share a new addition to my kitchen. I have been searching for an old copper kettle for ages, and was thrilled to find one in Hobart. Being an antique, it has a few bumps and mends on it - but no holes, which is the important part! I think it is just beautiful and has heaps of character. It's going to be a pleasure to use. I love the thought of using something that has a history - I wish my new kettle could talk and tell me where it's been and whose households it has been a part of. Here it is, pre- polish.

My Antique Copper Kettle


Now back to the chowder - it is best eaten freshly made and is not suitable to freeze. But it is so delicious you're unlikely to have any leftovers. Serve it will warm crusty bread and lashings of butter. Roaring winter fire optional.


Seafood Chowder


You will need: 400g firm white fish cut into cubes, 6 large shelled and de-veined prawns, 6 scallops, 1 large potato, 1 small carrot, 1 leek- white part only, 4-6 eschallots, 1 clove finely chopped garlic, 2 cups fish or vegetable stock, 2 cups milk, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 2 tablespoons plain flour, 2 pinches cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley, a little extra olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

Method: Peel and finely dice the carrot and potato. Set aside.

Finely slice the leek and eschallots. In a saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the leeks and eschallots on a medium heat for about 5 minutes, until very soft. Do not let them brown. Add the garlic, carrot and potato, season with salt and pepper and cook for another 5 minutes. Remove the vegetables from the pot and set aside.

Cut your prawns and scallops in half and season them with salt and pepper. Heat a little extra olive oil in the pan and cook them quickly on a high heat. The idea is to sear them and give them a little colour - they do not have to be cooked right through, as they will continue to cook in the chowder later. Remove them from the pan and set aside.

Now add 2 tablespoons of butter to the pan. Once bubbling gently, add the plain flour. With a wire whisk, combine the flour and butter thoroughly. It is important to use a whisk and not a spoon, as this will stop any lumps forming. Cook the butter/flour mixture for a few minutes on a medium heat.

Remove from the heat and whisk in the stock, combining well. Now return to the heat. Add the cayenne and milk and whisk it through. The mixture will start to thicken slightly. Add the vegetables back into the pot. Simmer gently for 10 minutes. If the chowder is too thick, add a little extra milk.

Add the fish and stir gently through. Allow to cook for about 2 minutes before adding the prawns, scallops and 1 teaspoon of chopped parsley. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper if required.

Spoon into bowls, top with the remaining parsley and serve with warm crusty bread. Serves 4 people.

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Sunday, June 1, 2014

First Day of Winter

Welcome to the first day of winter here in the southern hemisphere. We could be forgiven for thinking that it would never get here, given the unseasonably warm weather that we have been experiencing. Autumn barely made an appearance at all, and frankly I feel a little bit ripped off, given how much I love the cooler weather (actually, the colder the better as far as I'm concerned). Happily, we got some welcome rain overnight and  the day has been cool, with a steely grey winter sky - just gorgeous.

I headed out into the garden to check out how my winter veges are faring, and they were looking beautiful and healthy after a soaking of rain. The lettuce is ready to start harvesting this week, I picked the last of the tomatoes, the first baby carrots should be ready in another couple of weeks, as well as the spring onions. I plan to plant some beetroot and maybe a few other vegetables in the coming weeks. Always a good idea to plant a few vegetables at different times, so you have things to pick at various times during the winter. The herbs, such as parsley, lemon balm, chives, sage and bay leaves are all powering along. I used fresh bay and parsley from my garden in today's recipe.

I thought I would welcome Winter with the comfort food of comfort foods - slow cooked lamb shanks. They are the perfect dish to cook if you are having a lazy Sunday at home. Although the cooking time is long - about 3 hours - the preparation time is short, and there are minimal ingredients. It's set and forget cooking.

To make the dish more complex, you could always add vegetables such as carrots, parsnip and celery with the meat  - but I keep mine really simple, preferring to add fresh vegetables after the meat is cooked as side dishes. With a rich dish like this, I think it's good to have some fresh greens or other vegetables on the side to balance things out a bit and provide contrast to the richness. Because the cooking time is so long, if you put veges in the pot, they are going to break down completely anyway - and believe me, these lamb shanks already have buckets of flavour, so they don't need help in that department.

A dish like lamb shanks really benefits from being served with creamy potato mash or polenta to soak up all that delicious sauce - not to mention that buttery, falling off the bone tender meat. Enjoy this gorgeous welcome to Winter dish.


Slow Cooked Lamb Shanks

You will need: 
4 lamb shanks, 2 large sliced brown onions, 1 large sliced red onion, 2 cups beef stock, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sugar, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 bay leaf, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley stalks, 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley leaves, 1 tablespoon butter, 2 cloves finely chopped garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 4 teaspoons cornflour, salt and pepper to taste.

For the seasoning mix:
2 tablespoons plain flour, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1/2 teaspoon allspice, 1 teaspoon salt, pinch of cayenne pepper.

Method: Preheat the oven to 160C.

Combine all of the seasoning mix ingredients and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and while that is happening, coat the lamb shanks well in the seasoning mix. Add the shanks to the pan and cook until very well browned on all sides. Transfer the lamb to an ovenproof casserole dish.

Add the butter, and when this has melted, the onions and the bay leaf. Cook the onions on a medium heat until very soft. Add the parsley stalks, paprika, brown sugar and garlic. Cook and combine well for another 5 minutes. Add the onion mixture to the lamb.

Combine the stock and the soy, and pour over the lamb. Cover well with foil (I use 2 layers) - or a tight lid.
Cook the lamb covered for 2 hours.

After 2 hours, uncover the lamb, add half of the parsley leaves, stir well and cook uncovered for a further 30 minutes. Combine the cornflour with a little cold water until smooth. Remove the lamb from the oven and stir through the cornflour and water mixture quickly. Taste the sauce for seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. Return it to the oven for another half an hour. Finish off with fresh parsley to serve.

Note: Depending on the amount of fat in the individual lamb shanks, you may end up with a thin layer of oil on the top of the dish. I choose to get rid of this and use a big spoon to skim it off before serving.

Serves 4 people.


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Sunday, May 25, 2014

A Weekend Away - Canberra


Last weekend we headed off to the nation's capital for the weekend. I always really enjoy visiting Canberra, particularly at this time of the year, when the Autumn leaves are out in all their colourful glory, and the air has that wonderful crisp chill to it. Usually, when we visit, we head off to the National Gallery, Parliament House (yes, I'm a bit of a politics nerd) and the local markets - but this time the visit ended up being extremely food-centric!

We usually break up the 3 hour drive with a rest break at a trucker's roadhouse (which usually involves consumption of some dodgy servo food eaten on the run) but this time we decided to take our time and check out a place that we always drive past - but I've always wanted to try. The rather twee named Grandma's Little Bakery is located in Collector and sits up on the hill, overlooking the olive groves of Fedra Olive Farm. The cafe is part of the farm complex, and serves generous, rustic and really flavoursome food using local ingredients. It was a gorgeous day when we visited, and eating lunch whilst looking out over the sun drenched olive groves was a lovely way to break up the trip.

The view as we ate lunch 
at Grandma's Little Bakery, Collector.

Grandma's Little Bakery also has a small farm shop, which sells their wonderful olive oil and olive products - as well as a range of herbs, sweet treats and kitchen supplies. I was sure to bring home a bottle of their beautiful olive oil. I think we will be making a stop to the olive farm a regular part of future Canberra road trips. It made the drive so much more enjoyable.


Award winning local Fedra Olive Oil 
which I bought to take home.

Crossing the border into the Australian Capital Territory, you could see right away that Autumn has arrived. The colours of the leaves are just spectacular - shades of ochre, scarlet red, silver and everything in between. We were treated to really beautiful weather for the whole weekend, so we got to enjoy it all in the Autumn sunshine. Nature really is magnificent.


Canberra Autumn colour.

Our favourite accommodation option in Canberra is the historic Hyatt Hotel, located close to Parliament House. It was built in 1927 to house politicians when parliament was sitting, and is a gorgeous example of Art Deco architecture. I'm a huge fan of all things Deco, so it is always such a treat to stay at the Hyatt and revel in that pared down elegance.


The Foyer - Hyatt Hotel Canberra.

We have stayed in lots of hotels in our travels, but the things that make the Hyatt one of our favourite places to stay are those generous, elegant rooms - particularly the luxurious bathrooms, which all have beautiful deep baths and so much space that two people can happily get ready in the morning without getting under each other's feet.

Art Deco Bedroom - Hyatt Hotel Canberra

We have found the standard of service in the hotel really excellent on all of our visits - and I should mention that they also do a great martini in the Speaker's Corner Bar in the evening! The hotel is famous for it's high tea, which is served in The Tea Lounge every day.

Nothing like a luxurious bathroom to make you feel spoiled.

On the Friday evening, we headed into Civic to check out a restaurant I had heard good things about - Temporada. As chance would have it, the week before we went to Canberra it received a really glowing review in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food supplement - so I thought that our chances of getting a reservation would be zilch. Turns out we were lucky and managed to get in.

The food all had one thing in common - knock your socks off flavour. As a starter, we enjoyed gorgeous South Coast oysters cooked on a wood fire in their shells. Just beautiful - and it got me thinking about using this technique at home. Then we moved on to entrees - a beautifully prepared venison scotch egg (with a luscious runny yolked quail egg inside) and a beef short rib roll served with horseradish and fermented cucumber. Sadly I don't have any pictures to share - the place had lots of "atmospheric" lighting which made it impossible to get decent shots.

For mains, Andrew chose the Bangalow pork cutlet with caramelised  brussels sprouts, mustard and speck - and for me a beautiful crispy skinned trout with charred broccolini, almonds, capers and beurre noisette. Both dishes were delicious - served in a rustic, generous way. Perfect Autumn food. We shared a dessert - salted caramel donuts, served with house made banana ice cream and toasted marshmallow. Over the top - but delicious.


Dining Room - Temporada

On Saturday, we drove to Hall - about 30 minutes out of Canberra - to Poachers Pantry for lunch. Poachers Pantry is a farmhouse on the grazing property of Susan and Robert Bruce, farmers who decided to build their own smokehouse, so they could smoke and sell their own produce. The smokehouse idea grew, and now, a couple of decades on, there is a cafe, farm shop and cellar door, selling their cool climate "Wily Trout" wines. The beautiful farm setting makes a lovely place for a weekend lunch, and there is also the chance to pick up some great products from the farm shop while you are there. I bought some of the Bruce's locally made Prosciutto, as well as an excellent Bresaola (salted, air dried beef). They also sell all kinds of smoked red meats as well as chicken and fish. The shop also stocks locally produced olive oil, condiments, preserved goods - and their Wily Trout wine range. There is also wine tasting on site.


Down the road to Poachers Pantry

So, to lunch. I kicked off with one of my favourite food combos ever. Scallops and black pudding. They were served with a lovely fresh fennel and herb salad, and a delicious sweet pumpkin puree. So simple, but wonderful. I enjoyed a glass of Wily Trout Sauvingon Blanc which was perfect with this dish.


Scallops with Poachers Pantry Black Pudding

For the main course, I went for the braised pork cheek with kimchi and lotus root. The dish was served with a rich, full flavoured master stock. The hot, spicy kimchi was the perfect contrast to the rich, buttery pork cheek. Andrew chose smoked lamb cutlets with fondant potato and parmesan crisp - he was generous enough to share some with me, so I can confirm that the lamb dish was rich and delicious.


Braised Pork Cheek with Kimchi & Lotus Root.
In the background - Andrew's smoked lamb cutlets.

My dessert choice was a beautifully light layered green tea and white chocolate mousse, served with gingerbread crumb and yuzu curd. I was really taken with the contrast of textures as well as the beautiful flavours of this dish. The citrus tang of the yuzu curd against the rich mousse and the crunchy, fragrant gingerbread was so lovely.

Green Tea & White Chocolate Mousse
with Yuzu Curd and Gingerbread Crumb

As you can see, there are all kinds of delights to be had in Canberra and it's surrounds. These are just a few of them. We had a really fantastic weekend trying some new places and soaking up the gorgeousness that is Canberra in Autumn.

In other Gourmet Goddess news, we are heading back to our beloved Tasmania in late June. After deciding that we were going to be sensible and save money by not heading over this year (we are currently saving furiously to buy a house there that will be a holiday place first, then eventually our full time home) I ended up winning two return flights to Hobart in a competition. So guess what? We're going. I take this as a sign from the universe that we were meant to visit after all. Well that's my story and I'm sticking to it! Needless to say I will be writing all about it as I always do. Each time we visit we find great new places to eat and gorgeous new destinations and produce to share with you. Can you blame me for wanting to live there?


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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Bookish Delights - Smoked Ocean Trout & Horseradish Tart

I am a member of a Bookclub made up of a group of literary minded mates who decided we would use our love of books and enjoyment of each other's company as an excuse to discover new things to read. It is also a great way to guarantee that we get together every couple of months. We also happen to be avid food lovers and good cooks, so Bookclub has also become a place to share great food. Even if the book turns out to be a dud, you know that the catering is going to be impeccable!

We found that often we were inspired by the books we were reading, cooking food related to the themes or settings. Sometimes, it is easy to come up with something relevant to the subject - other times, it is more of a challenge. Our latest book falls into the latter category. Our current Bookclub book is the magnificent Burial Rites, by Hannah Kent, telling the story of an accused murderess awaiting execution, set in harsh rural Iceland in 1830. The book actually talks quite a lot about the food that they ate back then - preserved whale blubber anyone?

There were also references to eating dried and preserved fish, which gave me the idea of what I would cook for today's Bookclub. Smoking fish is a very old preservation technique, and also happens to be delicious, so I made that the centrepiece of my dish. Even better was the fact that I happened to have some smoked ocean trout in the fridge (which I love having with poached eggs for a special weekend breakfast treat). I created this very simple to put together tart, with fresh herbs fro the garden, a silky cream cheese filling and the gorgeous bite of horseradish. You could use smoked salmon in place of the trout if you preferred.

I'm sure that folks in rural Iceland probably wouldn't be eating something so pretty and delicate looking - but the cheese, fish and herbs take some of the elements of what they would have eaten and make them fresh and modern. Enjoy!


Smoked Ocean Trout & Horseradish Tart



You will need: 1 sheet pre-rolled puff pastry, 100g smoked ocean trout cut into strips, 1 cup cream cheese, 1 tablespoon horseradish cream, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon chopped chives, 2 teaspoons washed and drained capers, 1/2 small red onion sliced very thinly, salt & pepper.

Method: Preheat the oven to 200C.

Cut the pastry sheet in half. Lay one half on a baking tray lined with baking paper. With the other half, cut a border about 2cm thick the whole way around. When you remove the pastry in the middle and you will be left with a rectangular frame shape. Lay the frame on top of the pastry on the tray, press down gently. Use a fork to prick the middle of the pastry only, not the "frame". I gently score the frame with a knife on the edges for presentation - you can do this if you like.

Bake the pastry in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until lightly golden. As it cooks, you will see the middle puff up - don't panic - you will press it down later when you add the topping of the tart. Once the tart is cooked, allow to cool completely before adding the filling.

Mix together the cream cheese, horseradish, half of the parsley, half of the chives and half of the capers. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Gently push down the pastry that has puffed up in the centre of the tart. If it is particularly puffy, you can also gently lift it out completely - it will still leave a layer of crispy pastry on the base.

Spread the cream cheese mixture over the tart base. Layer the finely sliced red onion and then arrange the strips of ocean trout on the top. Sprinkle over the remaining parsley, chives and capers. Add some cracked pepper and a little salt and serve.

Eat this tart cold or at room temperature.

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