Saturday, February 26, 2011

So Corny...

Last weekend we had a hankering for juicy, golden roast chicken cooked over the coals on the Weber BBQ. I decided to do something a bit different with the stuffing - replacing the standard herb stuffing with one based on a vegetable favourite - sweetcorn. I also added another of my most loved ingredients, proscuitto. The result was a beautiful savoury stuffing that had the lovely sweetness of the corn but also the salty tang of the proscuitto. To change it up a bit more, I also took fresh tarragon from the herb garden and made a little tarragon and garlic butter which I put under the skin of the chicken. As it cooked, the flesh was infused with the butter which made for a succulent and aromatic result. During the cooking process, I basted the chicken with the delicious juices to ensure maximum flavour.

Make sure you chose a good quality free range chicken and always dry your chicken inside and out with paper towels before you stuff or cook it. You will get great crispy skin and a much better result. Being only the two of us, we had heaps of chicken left over for the next day - I ended up throwing the chopped leftover chicken into a quick and easy fried rice dish. Worked a treat.

Some of you have been asking about the wedding plans - well, we have settled on the menu for the 16 April - our caterers have been completely brilliant so far and we have tasted all the delights that our guests will enjoy on the big day. We didn't want anything overly formal. Never been a fan of the alternating "beef or chicken" type of thing and also didn't want a buffet. We want our guests to have choice without getting up from the table, so we have come up with a great solution that will give us a touch of informality, but presented with a bit of style. I love the menu that we have created - can't wait to share it with you. Yes, you have to wait! I promise to post all the details with pics before we get on that plane to Paris for our honeymoon on the19th April.

Now, back to today's gorgeous golden, corny chook......

Chicken with Tarragon Butter
and Corn & Proscuitto stuffing

You will need:

For the chicken/tarragon butter: 1 whole free range chicken, 2 tablespoons butter, 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon, 3 cloves finely chopped garlic, salt and pepper.

For the stuffing: 2 cups cooked corn kernels, 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, 6 slices proscuitto, 1 large red onion, 2 cloves garlic, splash of olive oil,1 free range egg, salt and pepper, 1 tablespoon freshly chopped parsley, 1 tablespoon grated parmesan, pinch cayenne pepper, 2 teaspoons freshly chopped tarragon.

First, make your stuffing - Place the corn in a food processor and blitz it for a few seconds until the kernels are broken down into smaller pieces. You do not want a puree – ensure that the corn has some texture.

Chop the onion and garlic and cook with a splash of olive oil on a medium heat until the onion is soft. Roughly chop the prosciutto and add to the onion. Cook for a further 5 minutes.

Combine all of the ingredients together and mix very well until it binds well (clean hands work best for this) Stuff the chicken with the stuffing.

Now make the tarragon butter – combine the butter, garlic, tarragon, salt and pepper and mix very well. Gently push the butter under the skin of the chicken, being careful not to tear the chicken skin as you go. Try to get the butter down near the legs as well as the breast. Rub the chicken all over with a touch of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 60-80 minutes, depending on the size of your chook. Let the chicken rest, covered in foil, for 10 minutes once it is out of the oven.

Serve with baked potatoes, whole baby carrots and asparagus.


Monday, February 21, 2011

Stay Cool

Life has taken a hectic turn over the past few weeks, so apologies that my usual updates haven't been as frequent. As well as day to day work responsibilities keeping me busy, hosting interstate guests and pre wedding preparations, I also attended my first molecular gastronomy class - titled "Foams & Emulsions" Very exciting stuff! A wonderful mix of mathematics, chemistry and cooking that pushed my food nerd buttons in all the right ways. I walked out of my first class with my mind churning over new ideas and with a better technical understanding of why certain ingredients behave the way do, the effects of temperature, the chemical make up of ingredients and the distillation of flavour. All the things that happen when you create any dish.

We made a beautiful aromatic herb foam that we served on Kingfish sashimi, as well as a tangy citrus foam, a Mojito foam (yep, it tasted just like the cocktail). On the sweet side, there was an amazing raspberry espuma (a kind of mousse) and a decadent dark chocolate ganache espuma that tasted so rich, but was also light and ethereal. The application for these techniques are so varied and I am looking forward to having a bit of a play in the kitchen to see what I can come up with. I love the idea of flavour without bulk - particularly when creating degustation menus made up of numerous courses. I plan to continue my molecular gastronomy classes throughout the year and will share the results of some of my experimenting as I go.

Speaking of molecular gastronomy, I am counting down the days until I get to be in the same room as my culinary crush, and all round gastronomic icon Heston Blumenthal on 15 March.  Can't wait to hear him talk about his food and his adventures in molecular gastronomy. I just worship the guy - to me , he is what cooking is all about.

Enough news, now to today's recipe -

A chilled soup is a lovely start to a meal, particularly in hot weather. I am a big fan of chilled soups, although you do not see them very often on menus these days. (A bit retro maybe? Don't mind if I do!) As well as being a delicious start to a meal, small servings of chilled soup make a great finger food option. Serve the soup in chilled shot glasses or Chinese tea cups. One of my favourite chilled soups is a variation on the classic French Vichyssoise - a creamy soup of leek and potato. My version adds some fresh zucchini to the mix and I serve it with fresh chives and homemade croutons. Directions for making croutons are at the bottom of the post.

Regular readers will recall that I catered a degustation birthday party a few weeks ago. We started the menu with my chilled zucchini and leek soup. You could use all kinds of vegetables in place of the zucchini - fresh in season asparagus would be great, or perhaps some spinach. The recipe is very forgiving, so play around and see what works for you. Here is my version as served a few weeks ago...

Chilled Zucchini and Leek Soup

You will need:

3 medium zucchini, 2 large peeled potatoes, 2 leeks (white/pale green part only), 4 cloves chopped garlic, splash of olive oil, 1 litre chicken or vegetable stock, 2 bay leaves, 1 tablespoon fresh chives, 1 cup small sized croutons**, 1 cup pouring cream (or milk if you want something with a lighter taste), 2 tablespoons salted butter, pinch cayenne pepper, pinch freshly grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste.

Method:Heat the olive oil in a soup pan. Add the leeks and garlic and cook on a medium heat for about 8 minutes, or until the leeks are translucent and soft. Do not brown them – you want them to be pale as possible.

Chop the peeled potato and zucchini (leave the skin on) into chunks roughly 5cm in diameter. Add these to the leek mixture and stir through. Allow to cook for a further 5 minutes. Add the bay leaves and the stock (the vegetables should be covered by the liquid – top up with water if necessary)

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about 25-30mins, or until the vegetables are very soft. Remove from the heat and take out the bay leaves (very important! if you leave the leaves in you will end up with a soup that has an unpleasant bitter taste)

Once you have removed the bay leaves, puree the mixture until very smooth. I use a hand blender for this, but a food processor would be fine. While the mixture is still warm, add the cream, nutmeg, cayenne and butter. Keep blending until well combined. Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as required. If the mixture is too thick, add some extra milk. The soup should have a pleasant, velvety consistency.

Allow the soup to chill completely - overnight is best - before pouring the soup into small bowls or cups and serving with a sprinkling of freshly cut chives and croutons. I find chilling the soup in a pouring jug makes for easier serving later. Chinese tea cups are ideal for serving this soup and are very inexpensive.

This recipe will serve 10-12 people if using Chinese tea cups. Serves 6-8 if using small bowls.

** To make croutons: Cut plain white bread into small cubes, until you have about 2 cups of cubes. Combine in a bowl with a generous splash of olive oil, plenty of salt and pepper and a teaspoon of paprika. Mix thoroughly but gently with your hands. Place the bread in a single layer on a baking tray and bake in a moderate oven until lightly golden. This will take 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool. Store in an airtight container.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Corn and Zucchini Muffins

As most of you know, baking isn't usually my bag, but occasionally I like to get out the mixing bowl and make up a batch of something tasty. Whilst I can usually take or leave sweet muffins, I do really enjoy the savoury ones. They are beautiful straight out of the oven, served with good quality butter. Try and stop at one.

My vegetarian savoury muffins today were made with what I happened to have around and you can easily adapt these muffins to include whatever you have in the cupboard or the fridge. Throw in some grated carrot, or some spinach, a handful of herbs, some leftover cooked pumpkin chopped into small chunks, rocket, sundried tomatoes, olives, some fresh chilli. A great way to use up bits and pieces. If you aren't vegetarian, you could also add some finely chopped bacon, ham or proscuitto. Experiment with different cheeses too - some crumbled feta or blue cheese would give your muffins a real flavour punch.

The recipe below will make 10 - 12 standard sized muffins. You could also use small cocktail sized muffin tins and make mini muffins, which would be great as finger food. Serve them as they are, or cut them in half and add some cream cheese spiked with some fresh dill and smoked salmon - delicious.

As well as loving the taste of these muffins, I also love that they are easy to throw together - baking doesn't always have to be a three act drama, thank god! The preparation of the mixture took about 10 minutes, then you can relax while the oven does the rest. And here they are....

Corn and Zucchini Muffins

You will need: 2 cups self raising flour,1 tsp Dijon mustard, 2 tbsp chopped spring onion, 1 cup grated cheese (I used Mozzerella, but use Cheddar or whatever you like), 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, 1 medium sized zucchini grated, 1 cup creamed corn, 1 cup cold vegetable stock, 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon poppy seeds, pinch cayenne pepper, salt.

Method: Preheat the oven to 200C.

Sift flour in a bowl then stir in cheeses, spring onion and zucchini. Set aside.

Combine the stock, eggs, mustard and oil in a jug and whisk together. Stir in the creamed corn, cayenne pepper and a generous pinch of salt.

Pour the wet mixture into dry mixture then stir gently to just combine all ingredients. Be careful not to overmix or the muffins will not rise.

Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin tray. I also line mine with patty pans - makes getting them out so much easier. Sprinkle the tops of the muffins with poppy seeds.

Bake in your preheated oven for 25 minutes or until golden. Allow the muffins to rest in the pan for at least 5 minutes before removing them.

Serve warm with good quality butter.