Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas 2010

Merry Christmas everyone! I've just woken up from the mandatory post Christmas lunch nap (2 hours is still just a nap, right?!) and thought I would get in early with posting the pics and the menu from our lunch today. With this being the first Christmas that I have had with Andrew and my lovely inlaws Kate and Peter, I wanted to do something special and a little luxurious. Degustation was the obvious choice, offering variety and the chance to use a great selection of the wonderful seasonal produce availabe right now. So, here is my Christmas menu for 2010....

The Christmas table -
and my first hand at flower arranging!

No celebration is complete without bubbles, so we started with a bottle of Moet & Chandon Champagne, served with a starter of Pacific Oysters with a blood plum and chive dressing.

Next was handmade Prawn and Scallop Ravioli which I served with sauteed asparagus and a butter sauce. To make it something super luxurious, I topped the dish with a sprinkling of Tetsuya Wakuda's truffle salt - you can't get more luxurious than flecks of gorgeous aromatic Italian truffle to take a dish to another level.

The third dish was a salad of pan seared quail breast which I had marinated for 24hrs in olive oil, lemon verbena from our garden, bay leaf, garlic and juniper berries. The quail was cooked quickly over a high heat to create a dark crust and was served with baby spinach, ruby grapefruit and a citrus dressing.

Course number four was twice cooked pork belly with a decadent creamy cauliflower and potato puree which I flavoured with parmesan and a sinful amount of butter and a splash of cream. Instead of a traditional gravy, I made a salsa verde of fresh herbs, adding plently of capers, lemon and a touch of anchovy. The pork went through two cooking processes - the first the day before serving - when it was poached in a broth which included fennel seeds, lots of onions, parsley, garlic, black and white peppercorns, lemon rind and lemon thyme. After poaching, I allowed the pork belly to drain and dry out a little, before scoring the skin and putting it in the fridge ready for process two. Step two was easy - I just rubbed the skin with olive oil and plenty of salt and cooked the pork over coals (I used a coal BBQ with a lid) until it was succulent and the crackling puffy and golden. I basted the pork a few times during cooking and allowed it to rest for 10 minutes before carving it.

And for the finale? A creamy white chocolate, pistachio and morello cherry semi freddo which I served with fresh cherries and Persian fairy floss. A frozen dessert is a great option, not just because everyone loves icecream, but also for it's versatility and the bonus of being able to make it the day or even a week ahead. It really frees you up in the kitchen and you have a sophisticated dessert in minutes - no last minute fussing. I chose the sour morello variety of cherries for this dessert, to balance the rich sweetness of the white chocolate. Serving the semi freddo with fresh cherries and delectable Persian fairy floss added new textures and flavours to make this dessert something out of the ordinary.

We all really loved our first Christmas together and I was happy with how the menu panned out - you will recall that I was having trouble settling on what to cook right up until a day or so ago! To drink, we enjoyed a few of bottles of Moet & Chandon champagne and Italian sparkling mineral water. With people having to drive home, wine matching was out of the question - but if you are going to have a celebratory drink, why not make it French fizz? After all, it's bloody Christmas!

And look what I got!!

Both volumes of Julia Child's iconic culinary classic - "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". I think I see more French dishes in my future! The books are chock full of fantastic French recipes that take me back to earlier in the year when I had the privilage of visiting Paris, attending cooking class in Montmarte and sampling the delights of French cuisine. Right now, I'm planning on doing a bit of holiday reading with Julia!

Well, that was Christmas 2010 - hope that yours was fabulous and that it involved plenty of laughter and tasty morsels. Now I'm off to fossick around for leftovers. I'm sure there is more of that pork belly in the fridge somewhere....... Bon appetit!


Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve in the Gourmet Goddess Kitchen

Well, Christmas Eve is here and I have finally settled on the Christmas menu! Don't know why, but I found it hard to choose what to make this year as I had lots of ideas, but it was a matter of working out what would work together - always the challenge in putting together any menu. I never do the traditional turkey/ham/pudding thing - although I love both, I prefer to eat these kinds of dishes in Winter, not the Southern Hemisphere Summer. So, Christmas lunch this year will be a 5 course degustation style affair with a bit of an Italian vibe to it, featuring seafood, pork belly and quail - along with plenty of seasonal fruit and vegetables and the luxurious addition of Tetsuya's truffle salt (which contains beautiful Italian truffles) served with one of the dishes. I will be posting the full menu with pics in the coming days.

I like to have most of the preparation done well ahead so that I can relax on the day, so I will make the dessert this morning and prepare as much as I can ready for tomorrow. First task this morning though, will be a visit to the grocer and fishmonger to pick up the fresh produce I need (all the non-perishable stuff was purchased last week - much easier than doing a big shop on Christmas Eve) Because I shop locally and avoid anything that even looks like a large shopping centre, I find that I avoid the crowds and a lot of the Christmas agro that seems to be rife in the shopping malls. I figure that this time of the year is meant to be enjoyable - why torture yourself? I do realise that I am very blessed with a fantastic local shopping strip, which gives me the choice of saying no to Westfield and Co. Which I do - frequently!

Well, I had better get organised and grab my shopping bag so I can start preparations. To all of my readers I hope that you have a wonderful day tomorrow, no matter where you are or how you choose to spend it. Most of all, I hope you get to eat something delicious!! Thank you for sharing my food adventures with me this year and all of your fantastic feedback. It has been an absolute pleasure.

Big Christmas Love
From the Gourmet Goddess

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas and Clams!

Regular followers of Gourmet Goddess could be forgiven for thinking that I had fallen off the face of the earth, given my lack of posts over the last couple of weeks. Things have been incredibly hectic, as we run headlong into to the end of 2010. There has been quite a lot of eating out (damn you silly season!) with the occasional sneaky midweek pizza delivery (oh yes, it's not all "plating up" and degustation in the GG kitchen. Even me, who adores cooking suffers from days when I just can't face entering the kitchen - ok, well not that many days....but believe me, they do happen!)

I'm lucky to be able to take a couple of weeks off over the Christmas break and this year I really feel like I need it. 2010 has been huge - amongst other things I have moved 2 households and created a new one, got engaged, visited 7 countries, attended cooking school in France, moved workplace into a new office, started my first vegetable garden (with composting!), crawled underground through Viet Cong fighting tunnels, eaten river snake on a stick and fried crickets in Cambodia, eaten raspberries warm from the sun on the steps of Sacre Couer in Paris and had the pleasure of experiencing the best meal of my life thus far at Tetsuya's (check out my recent review for all the details) Looking back over the year, it has been completely amazing. I'm looking forward to using the next few weeks to regroup and relax before the new year begins (and 2011 is already shaping up to be another biggie)

Now that I am offiicially on holiday and Christmas is only 5 days away, I really need to sort out what I am cooking for Christmas lunch - how are the rest of you going in the Christmas planning department? My problem at the moment is too many ideas! I never really do the "traditional" lunch (you know, the full pudding and turkey thing, usually in 40 degree heat- memories of childhood Christmas dinners in Perth) This year is rather special, as I will be cooking Christmas dinner for the first time for my lovely in-laws-to-be. Well, no matter what I decide to cook, I do have a few bottles of French champagne stashed away for the occasion, so that's a start!

When I was out yesterday talking to my fishmonger about possible menu items for Christmas day, I noticed he had some lovely fresh vongole (clams) for sale. I really love vongole and usually serve them the traditional Italian way - cooked with chilli, garlic and oil and served with spaghetti. This time, I thought I would do something a bit different to my usual recipe. I went for a tasty tomato based sauce, with the delicious addition of leeks, olives, rocket, roasted capsicum and a hint of chilli - a really tasty and a great way to serve the clams.

I chose a garlic, basil and celery linguine for the pasta this time - a lovely variety that I purchased recently, made in Australia by the award winning pasta company Bellata Gold. They are a family company based in Tamworth NSW, who produce a beautiful range of pure durum wheat semolina pastas. To learn more about them and their great product, check out the website:  I purchased a few varieties at a gourmet store in Canberra last weekend, but looking at the prices on the Bellata Gold website, I bought mine at a big markup. I will be buying direct from the producer next time - a whole lot cheaper!

So, here is this week's recipe - packed full of flavour and easy to put together. Just make sure that your seafood is super fresh and you can't go wrong.

Vongole linguine
with leek, olive and rocket sauce

You will need:
About 500g fresh vongole (clams), 375g linguine or spaghetti, 1 leek sliced finely (use only the white and pale green part), 3 cloves garlic, 1 small red chilli seeds removed and chopped finely, 1 heaped tablespoon chopped black olives, 1 heaped tablespoon finely diced roasted red capsicum (you can buy this at the deli or continental shop - or try the olive/pickle section of your supermarket - you can get decent one roasted capsicum in jars), 2 cups diced tinned tomatoes or passata (I prefer passata, but tinned tomatoes are fine), 1 teaspoon sugar, 1 bunch rocket finely chopped, a splash of olive oil, 1 tablespoon salted butter, Salt and pepper to taste.

Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the leek. Cook on a medium heat until it starts to soften. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the chilli and the tomatoes/passata. Combine and allow to simmer gently for 5 minutes. Add the sugar, olives, capsicum and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Put your water on to boil for the pasta, with a teaspoon of salt. When it starts to boil, add your pasta, give it a good stir and let is boil. In the meantime.....

Rinse the vongole under cold water and drain well. Add to the tomato mixture and put the lid on the pan. Allow the vongole to cook for a few minutes. When they are cooked they will pop open. Disgard any that don't.

Add the rocket and butter to the mixture and stir it through. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste.

When your pasta is cooked, drain it and toss the sauce through.
Serve right away.


Friday, December 3, 2010

Seasonal Treasure

Whilst I am not a huge fan of summer, (give me autumn or winter any time!!)I am a fan of summer produce. I'm loving watching the late spring/early summer fruits and vegetables start to appear at the greengrocer. All those lovely berries and stone fruits, summer herbs, mangoes - yum! This time of the year also gets me thinking of what to cook for the Christmas lunch table.I admit that at the moment my proposed menu changes almost daily, as I am reminded of all the great ingredients that will be available over the next few weeks. The only thing I am sure that we will be serving is the french champagne we have put away for the occasion (thanks to a trip to the duty free shop on the way home from New Zealand recently!) Nothing says celebration like a good slug of bubbly!

But I digress..... back to this season's treasures -

My love of zucchini flowers has been well documented on this site - I adore the sweetness of the flesh, the delicate flowers and the versatility of this gorgeous vegetable. Whilst I tend to stuff mine and oven roast them (drizzled with some good olive oil), this time I went for the more common option of serving them in a light tempura batter. For the filling, I chose a delicious combination of 3 cheeses and pumpkin, seasoned with a touch of nutmeg which adds a beautiful aromatic note to this lovely vegetarian dish.

I always think zucchini flowers look incredibly elegant in presentation, and are a great dinner party option. You can serve them alone or with a simple tomato based nepolitana sauce like I have today. Fried zucchini flowers need to be cooked at the last minute and served right away. You can prepare them up to the tempura stage, but you should only start cooking them once your guests are sitting at the table. Soggy tempura is not a good look folks!

The idea of stuffing a zucchini flower may seem a bit fiddly, but once you have performed the task, you will discover it is actually quite easy - and the results are really worth the effort. They are not always easy to source - if you are having trouble ask your greengrocer to order them in for you. Be aware that they do not keep well, so cook them within a day or so of purchasing them. The flesh should be firm and the flowers should not have any sign of brown spots or be too moist to touch - this is a sign that they are not fresh.

If you have never eaten zucchini flowers, I would urge you to give them a try - especially right now while they are in season and at their best.

Tempura zucchini flowers
with pumpkin and 3 cheeses

For the zucchini:
You will need: 10-12 baby zucchini (flowers attached of course!) 1/2 cup fresh ricotta, 1/2 cup cooked mashed pumpkin, 1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese, 2 tablespoons grated mozzerella cheese, 1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg, 1 tablespoon finely chopped continental parsley, pinch of cayenne pepper, salt and pepper.

Method: Combine all of the ingredients except the zucchini and mix well. Set the mixture aside.

Carefully remove the stamens from the inside of the zucchini flowers - they should just snap off. Be careful not to destroy the petals of the flowers in the process.

Gently fill the flowers with your filling - I sometimes use a piping bag to do this, but have also just used a teaspoon - both methods work well. (Although the piping bag option is a tad neater)

Set aside your zucchini ready for the next step.....

For the tempura:  
You will need: 3/4 cup plain flour ,1/4 cup cornflour, pinch of bicarbonate of soda ,1 egg, lightly whisked ,1 cup chilled soda water. Oil for frying.

Method: Sift the flour, cornflour and bicarbonate of soda in a medium bowl. Make a well in the centre. Add the egg and soda water and use chopsticks to gently whisk until just combined (do not overmix - the mixture should be lumpy). Place the bowl in a larger bowl filled with iced water.

Add enough oil to a large saucepan to reach a depth of 6cm. Place over high heat. To test when oil is ready, a cube of bread turns golden-brown in 10 seconds.

Place extra flour on a plate. Dip the vegetables in the flour to lightly coat. Dip one quarter of the vegetables, one at a time, into the batter. Shake off any excess. Deep-fry for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown and tender.

Drain on paper towels. Serve with your favourite tomato nepolitana sauce (I put olives in mine)

Spoon sauce onto serving plate/plates and serve immediately with wedges of lemon.