Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cauliflower and Speck Tart

So the weekend is approaching and you want something home baked that tastes luxurious, can be eaten for brunch, lunch or dinner and isn't too much of a drama to put together. Look no further than today's dish - a delicious creamy cauliflower and speck tart. The tart is richer tasting than a plain old quiche, with gorgeous Gruyere cheese, white cauliflower and the delicious salty/savoury character of the speck making it super flavoursome. It has a creamy, melting texture that will make it hard to stop at just one slice.

A hint about cooking the tart - don't be tempted to overcook it - you want it to be in the oven until the egg/cream mixture has just set. This ensures that it retains a lovely creamy texture. You can eat it warm or cold, but warm is my preference. The flavours seem to really come alive and you get to enjoy that rich, creamy texture at it's best.

I have chosen speck for this recipe as I love having that lovely smokey, salty hit that those small cubes of speck give you - but if you can't get it where you are (most delis should have it) you could substitute plain bacon - although the flavour will be a lot milder.

You could easily make smaller individual tarts if you wanted to - the ingredients below will make 4-6 small tarts or one large one.

Straight out of the oven

Cauliflower and Speck Tart
You will need: 1 large sheet shortcrust pastry, 1/2 cooked cauliflower cut into florets, 1 teaspoon olive oil, 1 clove finely chopped garlic, 1 large brown onion finely chopped, 250g speck cut into small cubes, 6 free range eggs, 1 cup cream, 1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese, 1/2 cup grated tasty cheese, salt & pepper, pinch cayenne pepper, 2 pinches freshly grated nutmeg, 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives.
Method: Preheat the oven to 200C. Line a large quiche or tart tin with baking paper. Press the pastry into the quiche tin. Lay another sheet of baking paper over the top. Fill with baking beads if you have them – if not, you can use dry beans or rice. Blind bake the pastry for about 10-15 minutes. Remove the baking beads and the paper and allow to cool.
Heat a pan and add the olive oil, onion, garlic and speck. Cook on a medium heat for about 10 minutes until the onion is transparent and the speck has browned a little. Season with a little salt and pepper. Spoon the mixture evenly into the pastry case. Arrange the florets of cooked cauliflower evenly on top of the speck mixture.
In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, cream, cayenne, nutmeg, salt, pepper and about 2/3 of the cheese. Pour the mixture into the pastry case. Top with the remaining cheese and sprinkle with the fresh chives.
Bake at 200C for 35-40 minutes or until the egg mixture is just set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool a little before cutting into slices.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Sunday Lunch - Chiswick

 Last weekend we headed out to Sunday family lunch and got to visit a restaurant that had been on my to do list for quite a while now. Chiswick is the joint venture of chefs Matt Moran and Peter Sullivan - where the seasonal menu is designed for sharing, and the focus is on simplicity and high quality produce that reflects the changing seasons. The restaurant has its own 150 square metre kitchen garden where much of the produce for the menu is grown. I love the whole notion of literally being able to look out the window as I'm eating my lunch and be able to see where the food on my plate came from, so Chiswick really appealed to me from that standpoint.

Chiswick Restaurant

The restaurant itself is a delightful space - very light and airy and surrounded by gorgeous greenery. Although everything is beautifully arranged, it is quite casual and relaxed. A perfect venue to have a moochy Sunday lunch with the family or friends. The service was excellent - with upbeat, friendly and efficient staff who clearly knew the menu well. As well as cooks and floor staff, Chiswick employs it's own full time gardener who works with the chefs to create the ever changing seasonal menu.

The Main Dining Room

While we waited for our lunch companions to arrive, we decided to enjoy a cocktail from the very inviting looking cocktail list. My choice was called Natural Element - a refreshing and delicious combination of Bombay gin, yuzu, green tea, lemon juice and peach bitters. Andrew went for the Apple and Basil Martini - a potent mix of 42 Below Vodka, elderflower, apple juice and purple basil from the garden. Both were delicious, but being lunchtime we stopped at the one!

Pre-Lunch Cocktails

The Kitchen Garden @ Chiswick
- a source of beautiful fresh produce

We decided to start our lunch with a selection from the "small plates" menu. I adore scallops, so we absolutely needed to include the grilled scallop and daikon dish among our choices. The dish was clean and simple, the scallops cooked beautifully and the daikon and chilli adding just the right amount of piquant flavour.

Char Grilled Scallops, Daikon, Chilli Jam & Viola

A super light, velvet textured chicken liver parfait with delicious rustic bread, hazelnut paste and fresh figs followed. The texture of the parfait was amazing, giving the dish a really luxurious feel, despite it's simplicity.

Chicken Liver Parfait, Hazelnuts and Figs

A shared dish of prawn popcorn, crunchy iceberg lettuce and a spicy, punchy jalapeno sauce was a bit retro in presentation, but was delicious. So moreish! I wish you could have a bucket of this home delivered!

Prawn Popcorn, Jalapeno Sauce and Iceberg

The Handmade ravioli was super light and full of fresh Summer flavours. Young broad beans are one of my favourite things and this was a lovely way to enjoy them.

Broad Bean and Purple Basil Ravioli with Sauce Vierge

After enjoying our selection of small plate dishes, we moved on the the main courses. We decided not to do individual mains and chose instead two generous shared platters. One of chicken and one of the famous Moran family lamb from their farm in the Central Tablelands of NSW.

The chicken was easily the dish of the day for me. Served in the very French style of braised lettuce caramelised pearl onions and fresh garden peas and green beans, it was so, so moist and succulent. Although the skin was golden and crispy (as it should be!) even the breast meat retained it's juiciness. I would go as far to say it was the most beautifully cooked chicken I've eaten.

Chicken, Pearl Onions, Braised Lettuce and Peas

A shoulder of Moran family lamb was cooked in a wood fired oven, so retained that lovely woodfired aroma. The meat was so tender that although we were provided with a knife and fork for carving, a spoon was all that was required. The lamb was delicious, however I felt that it was a little under seasoned and would have benefited from a little more salt during the cooking process to boost the flavour. With better seasoning, this dish would have been outstanding, instead of just very good. Under seasoning is one of the biggest cooking mistakes I think - not just at home, but in restaurants too. Don't be so scared of salt people! It really does make a difference.

Woodfired Slow cooked Moran Family Lamb
with parsley sauce green olive, fennel and tomato salad

I really enjoyed our first visit to Chiswick.  It is a great place to eat simple, well prepared, good quality food. The atmosphere is light and lovely - a perfect venue for a relaxed lunch. We will definitely return again to see what the garden and the menu has in store as the year progresses and the seasons change. Chiswick is definitely worth a visit.

65 Ocean Street
Woollahra NSW 2025
Ph: (02) 8388 8688


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chinese New Year Flavour

Chinese New Year is fast approaching and on 10th February we will be welcoming the arrival of  the 2013 year of the Water Snake. For some reason, I always get inspired by the new energy that the Lunar New Year brings so I thought it was the perfect time to cook something with a Chinese flavour in keeping with this celebration. Peking duck pancakes have always been a big favourite and my lovely husband Andrew has been asking lately if I could have a go at making them at home. Well, this week I got my act together and finally got around to it, creating my own version of this classic and very popular dish.

There is a real art to true, super shellac like, glossy and parchment crisp Peking duck that is pretty tricky to reproduce in a home kitchen. We are lucky enough to live in a neighbourhood where buying Peking duck fresh from the Chinese BBQ store is easy, so realistically just buying the duck and making the pancakes myself would be a viable shortcut. However, I decided that I would aim for a recipe that would give all the delights of Peking duck whilst being easy to put together for the home cook - and for those who don't have the luxury of having a Chinese BBQ outlet around the corner!

For any Peking duck experts reading this, I don't pretend that this is 100% authentic (the duck does not go through the usual drying processes)  but the result is a delicious try-and-stop-at-one pancake, with the gorgeous flavour of the traditional version.

So, why not celebrate Chinese New Year with a batch of these delicious treats? I warn you though that they are very moreish - best make a double batch!

Crispy Glazed Duck Pancakes
with cucumber, onion and hoisin sauce

You will need: 2 duck breasts skin on, 1 small continental cucumber, 4 spring onions, 1 cup Hoisin sauce, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon minced chilli, 2 teaspoons sesame oil, salt.

For the pancakes: 1/2 cup plain flour, 3 tablespoons cornflour, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup milk, 2 eggs, 1 tablespoon melted butter, pinch of salt.

Method:  First, make the pancake batter. Combine the flour, cornflour, water, milk, eggs, salt and butter and blend until super smooth. (I used a stick blender to do this) Pour into a jug, cover and stand for 15 minutes.
Now make the duck glaze by combining the honey, garlic, chilli, sesame oil and salt. Set aside.
De-seed the cucumber and cut into fairly thin strips. Do the same with the spring onion. Refrigerate until you are ready to serve.
Preheat the oven to 200C. Dry the duck breasts with a paper towel. Season the duck breasts with a little salt on both sides. Heat a non stick fry pan to a medium heat and cook the duck skin down for 6-8 minutes, draining off the fat as it renders down. When the duck is a deep golden colour, turn it over and cook it skin side up for about 3 minutes.
Transfer the duck to a baking tray and cook in the oven for 8-10 minutes (timing will depend on the size of the duck breasts) Remove the duck from the oven and brush both sides with half the glaze mixture. Return the duck to the oven for another 10 minutes.
Remove the duck from the oven, brush with the rest of the glaze mixture and allow to rest for 10 minutes.
Now, make the pancakes. Heat a non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Brush with a little extra butter if you wish. Pour a tablespoonful of batter into frying pan. Spread to form a thin pancake, about the size of the palm of your hand. Cook for 2 minutes. Turn and cook for a further 1 minute. Transfer to a plate. Repeat with remaining batter. The pancakes should be pale and not browned. Turn the heat down if they colour up too much.
Slice the duck into thin slices and serve with the pancakes, spring onion and cucumber, with the Hoisin sauce on the side. Serve right away.
Makes about 15 small pancakes.