Saturday, October 31, 2009

French? Fantastique!

One of my great pleasues in life is spending time with old friends over a few bottles of good wine, great conversation and of course, delicious food. Last night my gorgeous friends Justin and Marek joined Michael and I for a long overdue catch up over a french inspired meal (see, watching Julie and Julia at the cinema the other day has brought out the francophile in me!) I was fortunate to have the day off, so I had the luxury of plenty of time. As well as the shopping and dinner preparations, I also took the opportunity to make a batch of chicken stock - I used some on the day but also put some in the freezer to use later. It is such an easy thing to do if you have time - home made stock has a flavour that a mass produced, bought product just can't match. I do keep commercial stock in the pantry but there is nothing like one that you have made yourself.

So, what did I cook? I decided to include a couple of french classics as well as some of my own dishes with a french twist. I consulted my trusty beaten up copy of Larousse Gastronomique for inspiration and came up with the following menu.

Spinach, cheese and chive souffle
Watercress and radish salad with toasted hazelnuts and garlic prawns (served with a Dijon dressing)
Coq au vin with potato galette and sauteed asparagus
Rhubarb and strawberry meringue parfait

I have never cooked a souffle before so I was a bit nervous about it. I have never been someone who really uses recipes - I prefer to cook by taste and touch and to let my instincts guide me. With a dish like a souffle however, you pretty much need to follow a recipie. I actually found it hard to do what I was told (I can already hear my mum saying - what's new?!) but the result was absolutely beautiful. Light as air and delicious. Unfortunately, in my haste to get the souffles straight from the oven to the table before they start to deflate, I forgot to take a photo of them. Sorry everyone. I do think that they deserve a blog entry of their own, so I will make them again and post the recipe and photos when I do (very soon, I promise!)

The next course was a light salad - quite simple but full of flavour and great textures. I combined watercress, thinly sliced radish, toasted hazelnuts and prawns that I marinated in olive oil, garlic and paprika. The dressing was olive oil, a touch of honey, Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. This dressing combo works well with many kinds of salads and is a real favourite. The crunch of the hazelnuts was really delightful and there is a great contrast of nuttiness and the peppery taste of the radish and watercress.

The main course was the classic Coq au vin. I prepared this earlier in the day and let it cook for a long time. At the last moment, I removed the tender chicken from the pot and finished the sauce off with a splash of cream and then let the sauce reduce and thicken. I based the recipe on one of the versions of Coq au vin in Larousse Gastronomique but tweaked it a little (if you are interested, it is the Madame Maigret's recipe. It is listed in the book under Coq au vin)

My guests really loved the tenderness of the chicken and the rich, moreish sauce. I served the chicken with lovely fresh asparagus which I sauteed with just a touch of sea salt and pepper. I also made a potato galette - a layered cake of potato and leek that I cooked for a very long time until the potato was deeply caramelised and crisp on top. To make the galette, you slice the potato very thinly and layer it with sliced leeks. Season each layer with pepper and a small amount of salt, brushing the layers with a little melted butter. I used a cake tin lined with baking paper to cook it in.

For dessert, I revisited a dish that regular readers will remember from back in July - a parfait of rhubarb, meringue and strawberries. I had saved a batch of the rhubarb/strawberry mixture from back in July and had frozen it, so it is the same mixture you will see in the photos for my entry on the 25th July. Check out my archives from July for the recipe. I used delicious organic cream on the top this time with some vanilla extract and a touch of caster sugar.

The boys and I all had a wonderful evening - there was plenty of laughter and great conversation, as well as some very good red wine provided by the generous Justin and Marek. I love my friends :)

I was very happy with how the four dishes worked together and even happier to have conquered my very first souffle. Julia Child would have been proud :) In the words of the great lady herself - Bon appetit!!!


Monday, October 26, 2009

2009 Bloggers Choice Awards

If you enjoy Gourmet Goddess, vote for me in this year's Bloggers Choice Awards in the category of best food blog.

To vote, go to:

Delicious regards


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Spring Chicken

Hi everyone - I am away in Brisbane for work this week, so I'm doing lots of eating out! is something that I cooked last Sunday. I was in the mood for a roast, but with lighter flavours and something a bit more spring-like. I decided on Italian flavours and served the chicken with a simple salad of cherry tomatoes, bocconcini, basil and olives (and just a splash of white wine vinegar and good extra virgin olive oil) 

This chicken is made super moist by making up a small amount of garlic butter that is put under the skin, so as it cooks it is infused by garlicky gorgeousness. You could use the same principle with chicken pieces if you like. The stuffing is quite light and fresh tasting and I didn't make any gravy to serve with this. It has enough great flavour by itself - just pour the pan juices over. Delicious.

Garlicky roast chicken with proscuitto and lemon stuffing

You will need: 1 x Number 14 chicken (1.4kg), 1 tablespoon salted butter, 3 cloves finely chopped/minced garlic, 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 6 thin slices proscuitto chopped finely, 1 onion finely chopped, 2 tablespoons chopped continental parsley, 1 tablespoon chopped capers, 1 teaspoon fresh grated lemon rind, 1 tablespoon grated parmesan, salt and pepper.

Method: Combine the garlic and the butter well. Set aside. Rinse the chicken in cold water in and out, dry with a paper towel and set aside.

Combine all remaining ingredients to make the stuffing. Mixing it with your hands is the most effective method. Stuff the chicken with the stuffing.

Take the butter and gently push it under the skin of the chicken, taking care not to tear it.

Bake the chicken in a preheated oven at 240C for an hour and fifteen minutes. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes before serving.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Julie and Julia. And a story about a girl and a duck....

For a generation of post World War II Americans, Julia Child brought French cuisine into their kitchens and changed the way they would see food forever. She is also credited with being the first real television chef, long before Delia, Nigella, Jamie or Gordon ever came into our living rooms. Her 1961 cookbook "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" is still considered a classic over 40 years later and her culinary influence on generations of home cooks cannot be overstated.

Nora Ephron's new film "Julie and Julia" is the true story of two women for whom the love of food is not only a source of great joy but also a creative outlet, an expression of love, a test of mettle and ultimately a means of  personal liberation. The film parallels the lives of Julia Child - culinary icon and Julie Powell, disillusioned office worker from Queens who in 2002 decided to attempt to cook every recipe in Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" in one year and blog about it. Julie's blog developed a cult following and resulted in the book on which the film is based - "Julie and Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment".

In 1948, Julia (Meryl Streep) and her diplomat husband Paul (played by the wonderful Stanley Tucci) were posted in Paris and this led to what was for Julia, a culinary epiphany. We see this in an early scene where she tastes Sole Meuniere for the first time - her excitement and all consuming appetite gains momentum from here and just never lets you go. I don't blame her - the on-screen dish had me salivating (I actually sighed)

Well, Julia fell in love with French food and her passion for it led her to study at the illustrious Cordon Bleu School in Paris and to writing the famous book. The scenes at the cooking school as she deals with xenophobia, sexism and mountains of onions are hilarious. I laughed so much I snorted! We see her as she hones her skills and brings her own eccentric passion to everything she does, including to her marriage to Paul. Meryl Streep turns in a wonderful performance as the free spirited Julia and it is impossible not be drawn in to her world and her kitchen.

Meanwhile, decades later we see Julie Powell (Amy Adams) trying to escape the soul destroying grind of her day job and her growing feeling of general malaise by retreating to her tiny kitchen in Queens to cook the recipes of a woman she idolises. Although Julie and Julia never meet, they are linked by their passion for food and the personal transformation that their culinary journey brings.

There are some of us for whom cooking is more than just making food. It is part of who we are. It is chemistry and alchemy and art all rolled into one. It is theraputic - we head to the kitchen when we are down and don't know how to bear it and we head to the kitchen when we need clarity and comfort. The act of making food and of sharing it is an ongoing conversation with those we love. If, like me you are one of those people, you will find this film incredibly moving and very inspiring. The film will also make you want eat your bodyweight in butter, but that's a whole other thing! I give Julie and Julia the big thumbs up.

I really related to Julie's character as a fellow food blogger, her obsession with making things just right and cooking in her tiny kitchen. One particular scene involving a crying Julie lying on the kitchen floor after a failed attempt to debone and stuff a duck (hilarious) reminded me of a "moment" in my own culinary education.

In my early 20's I sold most of my worldly possessions, including my 70's Holden Gemini (Beige with orange and chocolate brown racing stripes up the side - coooool!) packed my things into 2 suitcases and moved from Perth on the west coast of Australia to the big smoke - Sydney on the east. I rented a tiny bedsit on the edge of  Kings Cross (for those non Australian readers, this is a notorious red light district in Sydney) with an even tinier "kitchen". (think cockroaches, bar fridge and about 40cm of bench space!) I spent the first couple of years in the city being very, very broke, so for entertainment I joined the Kings Cross Public Library. I decided if I couldn't afford to go out, at least I could read.

Imagine my excitement when I discovered that they had a treasure trove of cookbooks and food magazines. I worked my way through all of them, reading and making my own notes and waiting for the day when I could actually afford to buy ingredients to cook with! I read tomes of Margaret Fulton and I took out books on every cuisine from Scandanavian to Italian to Kosher. Then came the day that would influence the way I would cook forever - on the overstuffed shelves I found a copy of Larousse Gastronomique, the famous French culinary encyclopdia, first published in 1938. I swear I renewed it every month for about 6 months. It was so full of instructions and information! Ingredients I had never heard of, let alone tasted, recipies and produce and utensils. I was mesmerised and entertained and as I sat on my tiny balcony drinking bad instant coffee and rationing my cigarettes I also started to learn a little about cooking.

So, after studying Larousse, I decided that it was time for me to learn how to debone a duck.

Now, this is all well and good but for a gal living in the dodgy part of town with no cash, purchasing a duck and other duck-stuffing ingredients was not straight forward. Money had to be squirrelled away and sacrifices made and this took time. Eventually though the day came - ingredients purchased, workspace prepared, knife sharpened, Larousse at the ready (I had to put it on a chair next to me because it would have taken up the only bench space I had)

I began. Slowly, slowly..... very, very slowly. Hands shaking slightly, slicing though the thick pale skin of the duck to the ruby coloured flesh underneath. Being scared and excited at the same time. Reading and re-reading the instructions over and over. The thrill of seeing the picture in the book look like what I was looking at on the chopping board. 45 minutes later, I was almost there. The final cut - the moment where the bones are all removed and the only thing standing between you and a perfect deboned duck is some skin fused to backbone. One long slice along the bone and it is a done deal. I was already heady with success. I had done it! I had done it! But as you may already sense dear readers, the dark shadow of kitchen disasters was about to settle over that little bedsit in the Cross.

With cheffy zeal and a flourish of my knife (take that Monsieur Canard!) I made the final cut, slicing through the flesh like butter. And then the horror. I had the cut the duck into two pieces. I had cut far too close to the bone and instead of one whole duck, I was left with two pieces. Boneless, yes. But duck a deux!

I was overwhelmed by self loathing and feelings of failure. I was no cook, I was just an inept butcherer of expensive poultry. So I did what any mature young woman in that situation would do. I sat on the floor with my boning knife and I cried. I cried until snot ran out of my nose and my mascara ran. It was a good few hours before I could bring myself to revisit the site of the carnage and to look at that stupid bloody duck again! I cursed my own sub standard knife skills, the cavallier attitude that led me to fail at the crucial moment and purveyors of duck everywhere!

A month or so later I had the nerve (and the cash) to try again. And this time, the kitchen goddesses smiled upon me. A perfectly deboned duck. A wonder to behold and a skill learned for life.

And you know what? I didn't even cry. :)


Friday, October 16, 2009

Out of your shell...

Oysters. There seems to be no middle ground - people either love them with a passion or absolutely detest them. Me? Well, I adore oysters and I find them very hard to resist at the best of times, but tonight I fell in love at the fish counter with some beautiful Pacific Oysters from Coffin Bay in South Australia. Oysters from this region come from pristine water and you can taste that in the oyster. So fresh and lovely. They looked so gorgeous, I decided on the spot that they would be dinner.

I couldn't decide how I wanted to serve them so I settled on making myself a tasting plate with a variety of flavours and textures. This would work well as cocktail food or as an entree or a tasting plate for a dinner party. I enjoyed them with a nice glass of Oyster Bay Semillion Blanc from New Zealand. A delicious Friday night dinner if I do say so myself....

Oysters Three Ways

Oysters with Proscuitto & Maple/Balsamic Dressing :Whisk together equal amounts of good extra virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar and maple syrup with 1 clove crushed garlic. Season with pepper. Drizzle over oysters and top with strips of Proscuitto.

Oysters with Chilli Ginger Dressing :Whisk together equal amounts of rice vinegar and fish sauce (Nam Pla), a few teaspoons grated palm sugar, 1 teaspoon finely grated ginger, 1 teaspoon finely chopped red chilli, 1 tablespoon finely sliced spring onion. Spoon dressing over oysters to serve.

Fried Oysters with Chive & Wasabi Cream :Combine good quality, thick Greek style yoghurt with Wasabi (as much or as little as you fancy) and finely chopped chives. Set aside.
Whisk together 1 egg, soda water, a few tablespoons flour, salt and pepper to make a batter that coats the back of the spoon.
Dry the oysters with a paper towel and heat some vegetable oil for frying, Coat the oysters in the batter mixture and fry until golden. This will happen very quickly - be sure not to overcook them! Serve with the Wasabi Cream.

***About Coffin Bay Oysters:
For more info about luscious Coffin Bay Oysters, check out their website:


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Apples and Cracklin'

Tonight I really had a craving for crispy pork crackling so I decided on a simple twice cooked pork belly, that is easy to cook and uses a technique that ensures that the skin stays crispy and delicious, the way it should be. I did not go overboard with the flavourings for this dish - I wanted the main flavour to be the pork itself. I served the pork with some beautiful organic vine ripened cherry tomatoes, peas and broadbeans. I also decided to try an idea that I stole from the lovely Michael, (Jamie Oliver eat your heart out) who was telling me this weekend about a mash he made once using potatoes and apples. It sounded great, so I've given it a try.

The mash is really delicious and the sweetness/tartness of the apples works really well with the potatoes and the pork. I used the Red Delicious variety of apples today. I did not make a sauce or gravy for the pork - I just poured the pan juices over the top to stick with the simple theme.

The two step process for cooking the pork belly is a good technique to have in your repertoire and is a starting point for a large number of pork belly dishes. I used a small piece of pork belly for tonight's recipe - about 500g.

Twice cooked pork belly with potato and apple mash

You will need: (for the pork) 1 piece boned pork belly (allow about 2oog per person), salt, olive oil, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 small whole red chilli, 3 cloves garlic, 2 spring onions chopped into large pieces.

(For the potato) Equal quantities of peeled potato and peeled and cored apple (allow about 1 apple and 1 potato per person), 1 tablespoon salted butter, 2 tablespoons milk, salt and pepper.

Method: (for the pork) Place the pork in a saucepan with the peppercorns, spring onion, chilli, garlic, generous pinch of salt. Cover the pork with water and bring to the boil. Simmer gently for 10-15 minutes.

Remove the pork from the water and drain it well. Set aside and let it dry for 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220C. Rub the pork generously all over and sprinkle with good quality sea salt. Cook for 35 minutes. Turn the heat up to 250C and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Allow the meat to rest for 10 minutes before serving.

(For the potato) Steam the apples and potato - mash well and then add butter, milk, salt and pepper. Serve with the pork.


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Quote of the day.....

Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends.

Tom Waits

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Tropical Treat - Now!

I went grocery shopping after work tonight and saw some beautiful ripe Queensland pineapple that looked and smelt so tropical and sweet, I just had to buy it. It is a warm balmy night here in Sydney tonight so "tropical" was my inspiration for dinner. I was also starving, so I wanted something fast - no slow cooked anything here this time! I decided on a simple pineapple and chilli salsa flavoured with fresh mint and some quickly marinated chicken, that I then grilled. As usual I did add a more than generous amount of fresh chilli to the salsa, but use as much or as little as you like. I have not specified quantities for the salsa - just add as much or as little of the ingredients as you like, according to how many people you are making it for. Easy.

I used Shaoxing wine as one of the flavourings in the marinade for the chicken. It is a wonderful ingredient that you will find at any Asian grocery store. It is a form of Chinese rice wine, also called "hua tiao" or "carved flower" wine, due to the patterns carved on the urns in which it is fermented. It is not unlike dry sherry in flavour and is used in many Chinese marinades and braised dishes. It is very inexpensive too, so a bottle will only cost you a few dollars. It is an excellent ingredient that I really recommend to have in your pantry. For this recipe, you can substitute dry sherry if you like, but the Shaoxing wine really does add something special to the flavour.
Enough chit-chat - to tonight's super fast dinner.....

Grilled Shaoxing Chicken with fresh pineapple and chilli salsa

You will need: (For the marinade - this will be enough for up to 4 serves of chicken)
1/4 cup light soy sauce, 1 teaspoon grated ginger, 1 clove garlic crushed, 2 tablespoons Shaoxing wine, 1 teaspoon finely chopped or minced chilli, A pinch or two of Chinese Five Spice, pepper, 2 teaspoons peanut or vegetable oil. 1 chicken breast or thigh fillet per person.

(For the salsa - be sure to chop your ingredients quite small) Pineapple, cucumber (de-seeded), continental parsley, mint, fresh chilli, red onion, salt and pepper, a very small splash of flaxseed or olive oil.

Method: Combine all of the marinade ingredients with the chicken. Set aside and allow to marinate for at least 10minutes. (ok, so tonight I only did it as long as it took to make the salsa. Not the end of the world I assure you)

For the salsa, combine all ingredients well and refrigerate until you are ready to serve it.

Grill or BBQ your chicken and serve with the salsa. Yum!