Thursday, December 29, 2011

Au Revoir 2011

As we prepare to farewell 2011 and launch into the new year, I have been reflecting (as one is wont to do during this season) on the year that has past. And what an incredible year 2011 has been. The big event for me this year was of course my marriage to Andrew on the 16th of April which was, as described by my best friend Victoria "like a big love bomb went off in the room". What a day. It was exactly as we wanted it to be - on our own terms, in our own way, surrounded by the people we care about and celebrated with music, dancing, good wine and of course, fabulous food! This wonderful celebration seemed to set the tone for the rest of the year and I feel like I have had so many great experiences over the last 12 months. Food and travel have been a big part of this, with Andrew not just joining me as my partner in life but also my partner in culinary exploration.

Andrew and I
- partners in life and culinary adventure

In April we headed off to Paris for our honeymoon, where once again I was seduced by all of the gastronomic delights that it has to offer. It is truly one of my favourite cities in the world. We did everything from impromptu cheese and baguette picnics, to long bistro lunches -  and fine dining, Michelin star style, including a luscious formal dinner at the famous Taillevent Restaurant. I will never forget the sight of the huge cheese selection being ferried across the dining room to us in a massive wicker basket the size of a table, held aloft by three impeccably attired waiters!

One of our favourite Paris food haunts
- the building that this restaurant is located in dates from the 12th Century

2011 was also the year that I fulfilled a long held dream and ticked off one of my "bucket list" items - to dine at Heston Blumenthal's iconic Fat Duck restaurant. Readers of Gourmet Goddess know that Heston is a big inspiration to me, and the experience did not disappoint. The degustation menu at The Fat Duck actually changed how I viewed every meal I ate in any restaurant since, and will continue to do so. Did it raise my standards? - hell yeah! It also opened my mind to all of the amazing possibilities that dining offers and the ability of food to stimulate memory, emotion, and sensory perception. Think food is just about stuffing your face? Wrong! If you missed the review of my experiece at The Fat Duck , you can read it here :

Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck Restaurant
in Bray, Berkshire

In the same week, we were lucky enough to secure a reservation at Blumenthal's new restaurant Dinner - devoted to preserving the history of British cuisine - where we saw a whole other side to Heston's talents. Another memorable experience that showed the degree of excellence that can be achieved when someone has such a strong culinary vision. My review of my experience at Dinner is here:

Peter Gilmore's Snow Egg
Quay Restaurant

Other restaurant highlights of this year have been a gorgeous birthday dinner at Tetsuya's, (we return like migratory birds every year!) finally getting to taste Peter Gilmore's magnificent degustation menu at Quay (and yes, that included the famous Snow Egg dessert), enjoying an amazing degustation selection of local delicacies at 3 Chimneys on the Isle of Skye in Scotland and relishing in the delights of South Australia's finest at Appellation. Out of all of the restaurants I visited in 2011, I think the one to watch in Australia is Adelaide's Celsius. Open just over a year and the food is a knockout. I expect to be hearing a lot more about them in the near future. Love their food and love their local/organic philosophy. Exceptional.

Blossoms with radish and sheep milk "snow"
at Celsius

This has been a huge learning year, not just for my tastebuds but also my skills. In February I headed off to my first molecular gastronomy class - "Foams and Emulsions 101", which pressed all of my food nerd buttons and helped me understand more about the scientific basis of cooking. Fascinating stuff, which really educated me on why certain ingredients behave the way they do. In July, I donned my butcher's apron and wielded a big knife when I attended a butchery course run by artisan butcher Victor Churchill. My first lamb boned and trussed, I left the class eager for more - something I hope to pursue further with more classes in 2012.

Our garden at the beginning of the year

Looking after our small inner city garden has given me so much pleasure this year. I've loved seeing it change through the seasons and have even succeeded in growing a little of our own food. I've had success with lettuce, spinach, beetroot, carrots, different varieties of tomatoes, capsicums, sweetcorn and a whole range of herbs including parsley, mint, thyme, basil, lemongrass, sage, rosemary, bay, chervil and chillies. There have also been a few disasters - the snails and beasties just wouldn't give my strawberries a go, scoffing them before they could grow to a decent size. I ended up admitting defeat and decided to buy my strawberries from the market instead. I also lost a crop of promising heirloom tomatoes to a tomato fungus thing that wiped them all out. It's all been a learning curve, as I'm not an experienced gardener in the least. I'm getting better though and learning as I go.

Some of the Spring harvest
Spinach, Carrots, Kale and Herbs

It has been a great year for food related TV, (and no, I don't mean Masterchef!) - special mention must be made of SBS's fantastic foodie lineup, including Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations", Heston's "Search for Perfection" and the show that made our household grind to a halt every Thursday night, "Gourmet Farmer". Watching ex food critic Matthew Evans as he created his own little niche living on the land in gorgeous Tasmania was not only educational and inspirational, but touching and funny too. If you haven't seen the show - head to SBS online and watch a few episodes, you will be as hooked as we were.

So, what is in store for Gourmet Goddess in 2012? Well, we have already booked a trip to Melbourne in the first quarter of the year which will give me the chance to visit Cutler & Co - a restaurant I have been really dying to visit for quite a while - reservations have already been made and I can't wait! Melbourne certainly does know how to dine, so I have no doubt that we will be trying as many restaurants as we can while we are there.

I'm also planning more butchery lessons, the next installment of the molecular gastronomy classes and adding another item to my education list - cheesemaking! You never know when you might need to rustle up a few balls of fresh mozzerella! Travel wise, there is a trip to Tasmania on the cards - although there have also been discussions about heading to North Vietnam or Vanuatu at some point in 2012. Whatever happens, it will be another year where I will be sharing my gastronomic adventures with you along the way.

Thank you all so much for continuing to return to Gourmet Goddess. I love receiving your comments, suggestions and emails and I get a lot of pleasure in sharing my love for all things culinary with you. May the Kitchen Goddess bring us more exciting culinary adventures in 2012!


Saturday, December 17, 2011

Gourmet Goddess Greetings

Wishing you all
a fabulous festive season.

Love from
The Gourmet Goddess

 PS: I will be packing my bags for an end of year escape and taking time off from December 19th to December 29th. During this period, I will be leaving the laptop at home and having a break from the internet so there will be no updates over those ten days. 

Rest assured though, there will be more recipes, more reviews and lots of new content when I return. I already have plenty of ideas brewing, so stay tuned for more from the Gourmet Goddess kitchen!  

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Glazed Quince Ham with Cherry Relish

Christmas is fast approaching and although there is usually lots to be done cooking and entertaining wise at this time of the year, this festive season I'm not lifting a finger. Because our household doesn't really celebrate Christmas (Summer Solstice for us!) Andrew and I have decided to pack our bags and spend the Christmas break by ourselves on the beautiful South Coast of NSW. We will be spending 7 glorious days by the sea at Bannister's Resort in Mollymook - which as luck would have it, also houses Rick Stein's famous seafood restaurant.

I have always admired Rick Stein's no nonsense approach to food and his love for seafood in particular. It is going to be a real treat to see what his restaurant has to offer while we are away. I have been keeping my eye on the menu online and it all looks great. We have also made a booking for dinner during our stay, so we get both the lunch and dinner experience. I will be sure to take notes and photos for a review on my return.

In the meantime, I thought that I would prepare a very simple Christmas style dish for those of you who are actually cooking Christmas lunch this year. It is incredibly simple and really delicious - a ham baked with a beautiful fragrant quince glaze and served with a lip smacking cherry relish. I used a very small ham for this, as I was only cooking for two - if you are using a big one, I would make double or triple the amount of glaze to be sure that you have enough. Same goes for the cherry relish. If you aren't a ham fan, you could just make the relish and it will go beautifully with turkey, chicken or roast pork.

The cherry relish uses dried cherries that have a lovely rich flavour. They are sometimes labelled "sour dried cherries". Any store or market that stocks dried fruit should have them. For those in Sydney, I bought mine at Addison Road Organic Market in Marrickville. The quince glaze uses quince jam that I buy from a middle eastern grocer. If you can't find this, a good substitute would be quince paste that has been warmed in the microwave. If you can't locate either, just use apricot jam.

A baked ham is a really fabulous stand by if you need something that is easy, looks great and can feed a lot of people easily. A beautifully glazed ham served with crusty rolls and a generous selection of condiments is a real crowd pleaser. Fabulous party food that frees up the host but is still generous and sustantial.

Ham with Quince Glaze
and Cherry Relish

You will need:
(for the ham) 1 small to medium sized ham, 2 tablespoons quince jam, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon port, pinch of salt, pinch cayenne pepper, black pepper.

(for the cherry relish) 2 cups dried cherries, 2 large red onions, 1 tablespoon salted butter, 1 cup caster sugar, 1 cinnamon stick (or a couple of pieces of cinnamon bark), 1 tablespoon sherry, salt and pepper.

Method: Begin with making the relish - you may prefer to make this a day or two ahead if you want to. Soak the cherries in hot water for about half an hour. Drain them and set aside.

Chop the onions into thin slices. In a pan, melt the butter and cook the onions on a low to medium heat until they soften and are semi transparent. The aim is to cook them gently, so they become soft and sweet. Do not brown them.

Add the drained cherries and the cinnamon. Combine and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the sugar and season with salt and a generous amount of pepper. Allow to simmer, stirring often for about 10 minutes. The mixture will turn to the consistency of jam. Add the sherry and mix well. Keep stirring as it bubbles up and simmer for another few minutes.

Allow the relish to cool before removing the cinnamon and transferring to an airtight container or a small sterilised jar.

Now to the ham - preheat the oven to 200C.

Combine the quince jam, Dijon mustard, brown sugar, port, salt, pepper and cayenne in a small bowl with a teaspoon of warm water. Mix well.

If you are using a ham that has skin on it, gently peel the skin off and discard it. Cut a criss cross pattern into the exposed fat. (You may choose to do the traditional thing here and press a clove into the centre of each diamond shape)

If you are using a smaller, skinless and boneless ham like I did, all you have to do is make sure any string/packaging is removed and pat it dry with a paper towel.

Brush the ham all over with the glaze. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes. Re glaze every 10 minutes or so until it is golden and caramelised on the top and warmed completely through. Remember that ham is already cured, so you do not need to actually "cook" it as such. You just need to heat it. A large ham can take up to an hour to glaze and cook through - mine only took about 25 minutes as it was very small.

Allow the ham to rest for 10- 20 minutes before slicing and serving with cherry relish on the side. After the ham has been glazed, it is also great served cold.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Soul Kitchen

I love the idea of soul food. Food that is easy and comforting with no airs and graces. When I think of soul food, I think of vibrant flavours, simple ingredients and food that is cooked with love. To me, nothing captures the essence of soul food more than cornbread. Eaten warm with butter, or used to soak up the gravy from some gorgeous southern delicacy there are lots of different versions, but I've never eaten cornbread I didn't like!

I have had a lifelong love affair with cornbread and I realised that I had yet to include it here at Gourmet Goddess, so this week I decided I would bring you my version of the soul food classic. It is so easy to make and tastes fabulous. I like my cornbread with a generous amount of spring onion in it (scallions if you come from the USA) but you could also use chilli or other fresh herbs if you wanted to. The recipe is very forgiving, so feel free to experiment.

Freshly baked cornbread

Whilst channelling my inner southern soul mama I was inspired to take it a step further and do a dish to serve with my freshly baked cornbread - buttermilk chicken. Now traditionally buttermilk chicken is deep fried and really heavy on the fat and oil (traditionally lard would have been used) but I thought I would do a version that will hopefully keep us all out of the cardiac ward for the time being! The chicken is marinated in the buttermilk, which makes it super succulent - and it is then rubbed in a lovely aromatic spice mix and oven roasted.

Buttermilk is a by product of butter making and is used in lots of recipes, particularly in the Southern American cooking. Despite the name, it is really low in fat and adds a lovely acidic tang to all kinds of dishes. The clever little enzymes in it also work to tenderise meat and keep it moist when cooking. Most supermarkets have buttermilk these days, so it isn't difficult to get hold of. I threw in a few tomatoes to roast while the chicken was cooking and then just drizzled some of the juices from the pan over the top to ramp up the flavour. This was a great homestyle meal that was simple to put together, with a soul food vibe.

Buttermilk Chicken
served with cornbread and roasted tomatoes
- don't forget the hot sauce!
For the chicken:
You will need:
4 Chicken Marylands (you could use chicken pieces if you wanted to)

For the marinade: 2 cups buttermilk, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/3 teaspoon ground pepper, generous pinch cayenne pepper.

For the spice rub: 1 tablespoon ground celery seed, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons ground coriander, 1/3 teaspoon ground black pepper, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 2 tablespoons olive oil.

Method: Mix all of the marinade ingredients together. Add the chicken and ensure that all of the chicken is coated in the marinade. Cover and allow to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour (overnight is fine too)

Mix all of the spice rub ingredients together in a small bowl with the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the buttermilk marinade that the chicken has been marinating in.

Preheat the oven to 200C. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk mixture and shake off any excess buttermilk. I use a paper towel to do this. Take half of the spice mixture and rub or brush it all over the chicken.

Bake in the oven for 20 minutes, turn the chicken over and then brush over the rest of the spice mix and allow to cook for another 15 minutes. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. Alternatively, you could also cook this on the BBQ.

For the cornbread:
You will need: 1/2 Cup polenta (corn meal), 1 1/2 cups self raising flour, 1 tablespoon caster sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 cup melted butter, 3 eggs, 1 cup creamed corn, 1 cup milk, 1 cup finely sliced spring onions.

Method: Preheat the oven to 180C.

Combine the polenta, flour, sugar, cayenne, salt in a bowl and mix well.

Whisk together the butter, milk, eggs and creamed corn. Pour into the dry mixture and combine until mixed all the way through. The batter will be quite runny - that is fine. Fold through the onions.

Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin pan - I used large sized ones but you could make any size you like, just adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Bake at 180C for 15-25 minutes, depending on the size of your tin. The cornbread should pull away slightly from the pan when it is done. Please note that cornbread does not rise very much so don't be worried if it doesn't puff up the way muffins do.

Allow to cool for a few minutes before removing the cornbread from the tin.
Serve warm with butter.