Sunday, January 30, 2011

Scrumptious Sunday Sensations

Summer isn't usually when we think about cooking a roast, but I have a favourite that is just perfect for a lazy Summer Sunday like today. Who doesn't like a roast dinner with piles of beautiful baked veges and a lip smacking gravy? Love it. But when the temperature is steamy you want something lighter right? Well, one of my favourite summer meals is slow cooked shoulder of lamb, served not with the usual roast accompaniments but with the delicious rustic Italian salad Panazella. This dish is so easy to throw together, and a great way to use up day old crusty bread that you may have left over. It is a very earthy, peasant dish popping with loads of flavour, colour and texture.

Panazella is a salad made mainly of tomatoes and chunks of crispy bread. Make sure you use the very best tomatoes - and the trick is to ensure that they are at room temperature for maximum flavour. Also try to use a variety of tomatoes for this dish - different colours and sizes look and taste fantastic. I used yellow pear tomatoes from our garden, along with romas, kumatos (the gorgeous dark fleshed variety) and a couple of heirloom varieties. The result was a riot of colour and wonderful vibrant tomato flavours.

What about the lamb? Well the lamb is ridiculously simple to cook (seriously, if you are the type of person who burns water, then you could still pull off this recipe!) and the prep work takes about 15 minutes. Then comes the "slow" part (I did say it was slow cooked). It takes about 4 hours to cook - which is why it is a perfect Sunday dish. You put it in the oven, then enjoy the rest of the day - watch a movie or read a book or have a snooze and the oven does the rest. It requires very minimal supervision and the result is spectacular. If you want the lamb to be ready for lunch, put it on when you get up in the morning and and it will be succulent and gorgeous in time for lunchtime. If you plan on making it you dinner, then put it in the oven just after lunch.

When you are buying lamb shoulder, make sure that it is on the bone - not the rolled boneless shoulder of lamb that you will also see in the butcher shop window. If you can't see lamb shoulder with the bone in, ask the butcher - they will be sure to have some out the back and can cut it for you. It is a cheap cut of meat, so if you are on a budget it is a great substitute for the more expensive leg of lamb. The catch though, is that it needs very long, slow, loving cooking to be just right. The end result is so tender you don't even really require a knife to cut it - it will just come away from the bone in juicy morsels.

So, tonight's dinner consisted of the lamb that had been cooking all afternoon and the beautiful Panazella salad and it was a big hit. So tasty and lip smacking was this combination, that we actually abandoned cutlery all together and ate the whole meal with our hands, tearing the meat off the bone and licking our fingers. Uncouth? Sure. But lots more fun. I did say it was a peasant dish, didn't I? Anyway, food always tastes better when it's eaten with your hands I say. Here was the dish before it was devoured....

Slow Cooked Shoulder of Lamb with Panazella

So, how do you make this lovely rustic creation? Well, for the slow cooked shoulder of lamb, firstly preheat the oven to 220C. Then take the lamb shoulder and pierce a few small cuts into the meat, filling them with halved garlic cloves, lemon rind and rosemary. Rub the meat all over with olive oil and season very well with salt and pepper. Heat a frypan and cook the lamb on a high heat for a few minutes each side, until it is golden.

Place the lamb in a baking dish. To the frypan, add about 1/3 cup verjuice (I love the Maggie Beer one, available from delis, gourmet stores and some supermarkets). If you don't have verjuice, you can substitute white wine. Now add 4 cups of chicken stock to the verjuice in the pan. Stir over the heat for about a minute, then tip the liquid into the roasting pan.

Cook the lamb for 30mins on 220C, the reduce the heat to 190C and allow it to cook for a further 3 and a half hours. Check the meat every hour or so and top the pan up with water if it looks like all of the liquid is evaporating - you want there to always be at least 1cm of liquid in the pan at all times.

Once the cooking time is up, remove the lamb from the oven, wrap loosely in foil and allow it to rest for at least 20 mins. When you are ready to serve the lamb, the meat will be buttery and tender. You may not even want to use a knife to cut it - just pull it from the bone with a pair of tongs. Bliss.

For the Panazella, first tear up some good quality Italian crusty bread into bite sized chunks. Don't even consider using soft sandwich loaf or something similar - you need proper old school bread that has a decent crust and substance to it, or the dish just won't work. I used white Italian bread, but you could use grainy or wholemeal for the extra rustic touch. Put the pieces of bread on a baking tray lined with baking paper and cook them in a moderate oven until they dry out - they should be dry but not browned.

In a bowl, combine chunks of cucumber,red and green peppers or capsicum, thinly sliced red onion, black olives, a couple of tablespoons of roughly chopped continental parsley, and a selection of roughly chopped tomatoes, preferably a few different colours or varieties. Season generously with salt and pepper. Just before serving, drizzle a couple of teaspoons of white balsamic (use white wine vinegar if you don't have the balsamic) and a generous slurp of good quality olive oil over the mixture. Add the dried bread and quickly toss through. Serve immediately. Easy!


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Degustation to Order

On Saturday night I had the pleasure of putting on my official catering hat - a paid gig, cooking a six course 70th birthday degustation dinner. After consultation with the hosts, we came up with a menu that we thought would please the guests and especially the birthday boy. I was able to do most of the prep work in my own kitchen, which was great. It is always a challenge working in someone else's space with someone else's equipment but with most of the work done prior to the event, I only had a few tasks left once I got to the venue. Whether you are catering for a couple of people or a hundred, the planning is pretty much the same. I am the queen of list making and scheduling! Without a clear plan of what to do and when, it is easy to mess up your preparation and particularly the timing of the courses. You don't want guests kept waiting, but you also want enough time between courses to not make them feel rushed. This is even more important with a degustation menu.

I am happy to report that Saturday night went brilliantly, with happy guests, a happy cook and a lovely evening all round. Here is what was on the menu:

We started with an amuse bouche - a deliciously creamy chilled soup to get everyone's tastebuds going.....

Chilled Zucchini and Leek Soup
with Garlic, herb and paprika croutons

Next came the first of two starters - lovely fresh prawns that were marinated in heaps of garlic and pan fried, served with crispy rosti and a creamy horseradish sauce with heaps of tang and bite.

Garlic Prawns and Potato Rosti 
with horseradish cream sauce

Second starter was hand made tortellini, filled with fresh herbs from my garden, ricotta, mozzerella and parmesan. This was served with fresh asparagus that was sauteed with sea salt and plenty of black pepper.

Handmade 3 Cheese Tortellini
with sauteed asparagus

Next up was a free range chicken, that I deboned and stuffed with almonds, apricots, fresh herbs and Dijon mustard. I served this with a salad of pears and toasted walnuts and dressed it all with a maple and white balsamic dressing.

Deboned Free Range Chicken with Apricot and Almond Stuffing
Served with baby spinach, rocket,pear,toasted walnut salad and maple dressing

The second main course was a beautiful piece of lamb which I marinated for 24 hours in crushed juniper berries, bay leaves, garlic and verjuice. This was then pan fried and served with a decadent creamy puree and a salsa verde, flavoured with capers, anchovies, garlic and plenty of fresh herbs.

Juniper and Garlic Backstrap of Lamb
Served with cauliflower, potato and parmesan puree/ salsa verde

And finally the dessert - a French fruit tart which was cut and served at the table. The recipe for this tart came from my stint at cooking school in Paris last year. A great chance to revive my baking skills, as I don't tend to make desserts that often. I used seasonal berries and finished the tart with a redcurrant glaze.

French Berry Tart
with almond crust and vanilla bean creme patissiere

I really enjoyed creating this menu and it was really well recieved by the guests. It is such a lovely feeling to see everyone enjoying what you have created - makes all the preparation totally worth it.

The Roman philosopher Seneca once said that "There is no delight in owning anything unshared" - I feel sure that food and good company fall into that category! A wonderful evening that I was thrilled to have been part of.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

First Harvest

I have always had a hankering to have my own garden, but living in apartments in the inner city of Sydney with not even a balcony for the last 20 years or so, it has never really been a viable option. So, when Andrew and I moved into a house with a small garden in September last year, (still in the inner city) I was really keen to try my hand at growing the things I like to eat.

The past few months have been a big learning curve, as I discovered all about creating a basic garden - what plants like what growing conditions, what bugs like what plants and how quickly (or slowly) things grow. There have been some disasters, including sad looking coriander that just would not thrive, no matter what I did and discovering that my love for eating strawberries was matched by a whole barrage of bugs that loved them too. They would even wait until they were almost ready to eat and then scoff the lot, leaving only pale pink stalks. How very dare they!! I have conducted snail patrols at night, removing the culprits that levelled all of my oak leaf lettuce in one night's work and cursed the catterpillars that decided my capsicum leaves were super tasty. Not wanting to use nasty chemicals, I have had to employ the squash and destroy method for those critters!

Our garden beds are pretty much filled with flowers, trees and shrubs - so my herbs and vegetables have all been grown in pots/tubs. I have been amazed at how well things grow in pots and how simple they are to take care of. They also have the advantage of being easy to move around if required. At the moment, I have a few different varieties of lettuce, 6 different kinds of tomatoes (including heirloom varieties), capsicum, beetroot and chillies. In the herb department, we have continental and traditional curly leaf parsley, lemongrass, tarragon, sage, rosemary, lemon verbena, mint, 3 different kinds of basil (including Thai), dill, oregano and thyme. It has been fanatstic to just pop out the back door to pick fresh herbs whenever I want them.

Last week the first of the beetroot and tomatoes were ready to be picked, and I was ridiculously excited to see what began as tiny seedlings grow into actual vegetables! The tomatoes tasted beautiful - a world away from those awful floury things they try to sell in the supermarket. And the beetroot? Well, they are one of my very favourite vegetables, so I wanted to create a dish that showcased their beautiful earthy nature and natural sweetness - not to mention that stunning dark ruby colour.

Beetroot harvested from my garden
(and my first baby Roma tomatoes)

So, what did I do? First, I washed and trimmed the beetroot (removing the stalks/leaves) and boiled them in plain water for about 15 minutes. For the last couple of minutes of cooking, I added 8 whole, peeled eschallots. After cooking, I drained the whole lot. Then I put the eschallots in a bowl and set them aside. I put the hot beetroot in another bowl of cold water and rubbed the outside, removing the tough outside skin.

Next step, I put the beetroot and eschallots in a ceramic dish with 6 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons olive oil, a tablespoon maple syrup, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, plenty of salt and pepper and 1 cup of water. I baked it all covered in foil for 50mins at about 190C. Then, I removed the foil, gave it all a stir and let it cook uncovered for another 30 minutes. I let everything cool down a little before tossing the mixture trough some baby spinach leaves and drizzling it with the juices from the pan. And this is what I ended up with...

Roasted baby beet and caramelised eschallot salad

I could not believe how meltingly soft and delicious the garlic and eschallots were, and how sweet and caramelised the beetroot turned out. I chose to use the combo as a base for a salad, but this would also make a brilliant accompaniment for red meat or game. I think that this dish was made even more special by the fact that the beetroot came right out of my very own garden. There is still more beetroot to come - I am going to let the rest of the plants grow bigger and I have 2 long garden boxes full of them. Plenty for other recipes.

As for the rest of the garden -  I've noticed that my first capsicums are coming on and the chillies are loving this hot weather. I have been picking lettuce for the last week or so and the heirloom tomatoes I planted have doubled in size in a really short time. It all seems to be working so far. I have already started thinking of other things I want to grow - it is just so much fun and so satisfying. My humble little corner of the inner city landscape is just bursting with growth and it really does bring a bit of special lush green magic into my world. As my garden has grown, I have become super aware of all the creatures that live there - (as well as the bugs that like to share my crops!!) there are bees, ladybirds, pretty spiders and butterflies - all making my garden their home. I'm just getting so much pleasure from all these living things. Yep -  I think I'm going to like this whole kitchen garden thing!


Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Summer BBQ. And what I'm planning......

Welcome to the very first Gourmet Goddess recipe of 2011. It was a rather steamy summer Saturday in Sydney yesterday, so I decided that a BBQ dinner was absolutely mandatory. I also wanted something quite light, as well as something a bit different. Summer says seafood for me , so I headed to the fishmonger to check out what looked good. I couldn't go past the baby calamari that he had on display, so that was the inspiration for today's dish. I love the versatility of calamari - and also the fact that it is very inexpensive at this time of the year - so it is good for your health,your tastebuds and your wallet! I decided to go with a slightly Italian vibe with this recipe, serving the calamari with a zingy Summer stuffing flavoured with garlic, lemon, parmesan, capers and plenty of fresh herbs from the garden - mint, basil and continental parsley.

If you are really squeamish about cleaning the calamari, then get the fishmonger to do it for you. But please, please don't be tempted to buy those big pre-cleaned (inevitably frozen) squid tubes from the supermarket. They taste like rubber and are truly awful. Wait until you can get your hand on the real McCoy - tentacles and all!

I served the calamari with a salad of baby spinach, spanish onion, black olives, cucumber and fennel, which I grilled first on the BBQ. I have never done fennel that way, but it was fantastic. Just cut the bulb into slices, brush them with some olive oil, season well and cook for a few minutes each side. Really delicious. For the salad dressing I just added a drizzle of good olive oil and a few drops of pomegranate balsamic.

This week I will be in preparation for a paid catering gig on Saturday - a private 6 course degustation dinner for a 70th birthday. I do the odd paid job from time to time - I really enjoy it and it keeps both my cooking and organisational skills well and truly honed.The menu has been locked in and I'm in the process of putting down my working plan. This is basically a timetable of when everything needs to be done -  from the cooking to the final serving and an inventory of what you will need to do it. When you are juggling multiple tasks, it is an absolute must to have a clear plan, or it can go pear shaped pretty quickly! Even a simple written list can mean the difference between getting all the food on the table at it's best and in the right order - or kitchen chaos.

I find it is always a challenge cooking in someone else's kitchen. Happily the dinner is being held just down the street from me, so quite a bit of the preparation can be done in my own kitchen. This makes things so much easier. I am really looking forward to creating this degustation menu. One of the items is a fruit tart that I haven't made since Paris, and I have been meaning to do it since May last year! A good chance to revisit what I learned at cooking school. I will of course be putting up photos and a full account of the dinner next weekend.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this lovely summery calamari dish from the Gourmet Goddess kitchen....

Char-grilled Baby Calamari
with lemon, caper and green herb stuffing

You will need:
For the calamari: 6-8 smallish/medium sized calamari, a splash of olive oil, toothpicks (for securing the ends of the calamari), lemon wedges to serve.
For the suffing: 4 cups fresh breadcrumbs, 1 large finely chopped onion, splash of olive oil, 3 cloves very finely chopped garlic, finely grated rind of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon baby capers, 2 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon chopped continental parsley, 1/2 tablespoon chopped basil leaves, 1/2 tablespoon chopped mint leaves, 1 tablespoon melted butter, 1 egg, salt and pepper(to taste).

Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and cook the onion and the garlic on a medium heat until it softens and starts to look transparent. Set aside.

Combine all of the remaining stuffing ingredients in a bowl. Add the onion and mix well. Your hands are best for this, to ensure that all of the ingredients are well combined. Season generously and set the stuffing aside.

Clean the calamari - you will need to remove the head, outer skin, "wings" and tentacles and ensure that the remaining calamari tubes are super clean and clear of any ink etc.

Cut off the tips if the calamari tubes (about 1/2 cm). This will prevent the calamari from swelling too much during cooking and popping open. It basically gives them an inbuilt air vent!

Using your fingers, stuff the calamari with the filling, pushing it right to the ends. Secure with a toothpick. Wipe the calamari with a damp paper towel to remove any stray stuffing from the outside.

Heat your BBQ/Grill. Brush the calamari with a little olive oil and cook for about 5 minutes each side. Cooking time will vary depending on the size of the calamari. If you happen to have a BBQ with a hood/lid, pop the lid on for the last few minutes of the cooking process.

Let the calamari rest for 5 minutes after cooking.
Slice and serve with salad, crusty bread and an extra squeeze of lemon.


Saturday, January 1, 2011

A farewell to 2010

Happy New Year everyone! Hope that you all got to farewell 2010 in whatever way made you happiest and that there was some good food and celebratory drinks thrown in for good measure. I had a fantastic New Year's Eve, deciding against the big party/crowd vibe and going for something a bit quieter and definitely tastier! We headed off to one of my very favourite Sydney restaurants - Restaurant Atelier - for a special NYE degustation menu.

We enjoyed Chef Darren Templeman's superb food, teamed with some pretty awesome wine selections. Being regular diners at Atelier over the years, I have got to know the staff as well as the Chef pretty well, and it is always lovely when you can walk into a place and feel so at home. They get to know what you like and they deliver it in spades. Last night when we arrived, we were warmly greeted by the lovely front of House Manager/ Sommelier/ Head Waiter Bernadette who advised us that she had reserved our favourite table for the occasion. It is just this kind of attention to detail and personal touches that make a visit to Atelier an absolute delight every time.

We kicked off our New Year celebrations with a glass of fine French champagne from Devaux -  a NV Devaux Blanc de Nouirs from Bar-Sur-Seine. Nothing says celebration like champagne and it was the perfect way to start ours!

Then, over the following hours we feasted on this stunning menu:

Alaskan Snow Crab & Mango Salad with a Spiced Mango Chilli Salsa, Unpasteurised Ocean Trout Roe & Baby Coriander
Served with Black Caviar on a Mother of Pearl spoon
Wine: 2009 Ocean Eight Pinot Gris, Mornington Peninsular, VIC

Twice-Cooked Boneless Poussin filled with Foie Gras &
Herb Mousse, Soy Bean Puree,
Yellow Oyster Mushroom Salad, Jus Gras
Wine: 2010 Massena Roussanne, Barossa Valley, SA

Roasted NZ Pure Angus Fillet with Confit carrot Puree, Fresh Peas 'Paysanne', King Brown Mushroom & Sweet Bread Croquettes
Wine: 2007 Mon Redon Rouge, Cotes du Rhone, France

Cheese plate: Ashgrove Cheddar (Aust)
Dolce Latte Gorgonzola (Italy)
Cremeaux (France)

Strawberry Jelly with Strawberry Espuma

Tropical Fruit Souffle, Ginger & Lime Leaf Milkshake, Coconut Sorbet
Wine: 2007 Grande Maison 'Cuvee des Anges', Monbazillac, France

What a wonderful way to see off the end of the year - and what a year it was! Thinking back over my culinary experiences alone, it was full of so many adventures and new tastes. For starters, it was the year that I fulfilled a long held dream to study cooking in Paris. May 2010 saw me happily ensconced in a kitchen in Montmartre, aproned up and learning from Master French Chef Pino Ficara. I walked out of there with a whole new enthiusiasm for food and for fresh produce, some new skills to add to my repitoire , including the ins and outs of cheesemaking, how to make creme patissiere and some of the finer points of French butchery! A truly life changing experience. Check my entries in May to read all about my culinary adventures in France.

2010 was also the year that I enjoyed what is probably the best meal I have eaten in my life so far - I finally got to experience the genius of Tetsuya Wakuda's amazing talents in the kitchen. What a memorable experience that was - made even more exciting by the appearence of the man himself during the final dessert course. (For a review of my experience at Tetsuya's, see my Enrty on November 25)

This year was a big year for travel - I visited 7 countries all up and everywhere there was amazing food. I ate fried crickets and grilled river snake on a stick in Cambodia, sat in the dirt on the side of the road eating delectable caramelised pork in Saigon, ate chilli for breakfast and real Korean Bulgolgi in Seoul, drank cocktails from teapots in an Alice in Wonderland themed bar and devoured beautiful jade green New Zealand mussels in Wellington, sipped whisky on the banks of Loch Ness as I enjoyed the finest Scottish seafood, delighted in raspberries warm from the sun on the steps of Sacre Coeur and Confit of Duck, raw milk cheese and Cafe au lait in Paris and ate the best kebab in the world in Stoke Newington, London. There were just so many special food moments this year and so many of them were the result of my travels. I am very grateful to have had such wonderful opportunities this year.

I would like to thank all of you who have visited Gourmet Goddess this year, and who have offered feedback and comments, cooked my recipes, sent me jokes, shared your own cooking adventures and have generally encouraged me all the way. I have really enjoyed putting my love of food and all things culinary out there, and I have been blown away by the number of visitors to my site from all around the world - more than 20,000 to date. Thank you for sharing Gourmet Goddess with me, you make it all such a pleasure.

Can't wait to see what 2011 will bring!

Love to you all

AKA The Gourmet Goddess