Sunday, May 31, 2009

Three Mushroom Risotto

This weekend seems to have been all about comfort food and tonight I decided on the ultimate Italian comfort food, risotto. I had some dried Italian Porcini mushrooms in the pantry and decided to put them to use after being inspired at the greengrocer today. I found some lovely flat field mushrooms and some swiss browns when I was shopping this morning and decided mushrooms would be the flavour of the day. I love combining mushroom varieties - the flavour that you can achieve is wonderful and you also have the advantage of having different textures and colours.

Mushrooms are great right now and you seem to be able to get different varieties more easily than you used to. Once, you only really got cap or button mushrooms in the stores, (which to my palate, have very little taste) now there are all sorts of varieties available, even at your average supermarket. As well as field mushrooms, shitake, swiss brown, oyster, wood ear and enokii, I have also seen the yellow/orange local pine mushrooms this season. When you are using mushrooms, don't be shy about using the dried ones - just soak them in water till they soften and slice them and they are ready for cooking. I love the Asian black fungus and dried shitake. Just bear in mind that the flavour is really strong, so use them in dishes where you want a strong flavour.

So, to tonight's dinner - Three Mushroom Risotto. It is easy to make, but a word of advice about overstirring your risotto. The aim is to not break up the grains too much. If you do, you will break down the starch in the rice and you will end up with a pasty, gluggy, unappetising mess. Not cool. Try not to stir too much (but make sure it doesn't stick on the bottom)
Treat your risotto like you are making sweet, sweet love to it - not like you are rodgering it senseless from behind!
Three Mushroom Risotto
Serves 4-6
You will need:
Olive oil
2 cups Arborio rice
About 1.5 litres chicken stock
1 large chopped brown onion
2 cloves garlic
3-4 cups sliced mushrooms
(tonight I used a mixture of Porcini, Swiss Brown and field mushrooms)
Butter (amount to taste)
Grated parmesan (amount to taste)
Salt and pepper
Fresh chives or continental parsley (optional)

Heat a splash of olive oil in the pan and gently cook the onion and garlic until it begins to turn translucent. Add the rice and combine well. You want to coat and slightly toast the rice, but you do not want it to brown. Adjust the heat if you have to. Cook for about 5 mins.

Bring the stock to the boil and add the stock to the rice a few spoonfulls at a time, allowing all the moisture to evaporate before adding the next batch. When the rice is almost cooked (it should have "bite" and a slight fimness to the centre) add the mushrooms and cook for a few minutes.

To finish, stir through some butter and freshly grated parmesan. Season to taste. Garnish with fresh chives or continental parsley.

Serve immediately.


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Balance & Harmony & Chilli Jam

At Christmas this year I was given Neil Perry's latest book, "Balance & Harmony" by Michael's gorgeous parents, Anne and Alan. Apart from looking absolutely beautiful in the crysanthemum linen box it is a treasure trove of great recipies and ideas.

The photos are of a really high quality and in terms of content and presentation, this really is a class act. The release of the book coincided with the January 2009 opening of Perry's latest restaurant venture, Spice Temple (which I hope to review at some point) So far, I have heard really good things about it so I am eager to find out for myself.

Check out the website for more info

But back to Balance & Harmony - as well as lots of stunning dishes, the book gives you the lowdown on a whole lot of basics as well as some more complex dishes. In the last 18 months I have studied and cooked a lot of Asian food - as some of you know I headed off to Singapore and Indonesia to do cooking classes on 3 occasions recently and felt like I was pretty across how to handle a lot Asian ingredients and techniques. I still got a lot from Neil Perry's take on things. Whilst this book sticks to the principles I learned in Asia, it gives them quite a slick, modern presentation which really works. At around $95, the book isn't cheap, but I think it has been released in glossy paperback so look for it in your bookshop. Highly recommended.

I was inspired by the book to make my own chilli jam - something I hadn't attempted before. I love chilli jam as a stirfry ingredient, as a condiment on grilled chicken or fish, or as part of a spicy mayonnaise. I wanted something super rich and spicy, that would make your tastebuds sit up and take notice. I wanted heat as well as flavour. I was really happy with the result and Michael (my barometer and consultant for all things chilli related) agreed that it packs a punch. It turned out super dense and caramelised and the flavour is quite complex - very rich at first but with a hot, slightly acid, clean finish. It was so easy to make and the recipie makes enough to last any chilli addict a few months. Here is what I did:

Gourmet Goddess Chilli Jam

You will need:

About 500g sliced Red Chillies (I used the longer hot ones, not the small birdseye chillis, and I kept the seeds in because I wanted a lot of heat)

4 large red onions sliced into thin rings

About 2-3 cups brown sugar

Fish Sauce (Nam Pla) - Omit if you are vego.

Rice Vinegar

Splash of vegetable or peanut oil.

* Feel free to adjust these amounts to taste. As with any kind of jam making, you will need to taste and monitor the flavours and consistency until it is to your own taste.


In a heavy based pan, put a splash of oil and add the onions. Cook gently until they start to become translucent. Add the chillis and cook for about 5 mins.

Add the brown sugar, a generous splash each of the rice vinegar and fish sauce.

Cook on a low to medium heat until the jam is the consistency you want it (I cooked mine until it was quite thick) Make sure you give it a loving stir from time to time and don't let it burn.

Allow to cool and pour into sterilised jars with a tight fitting lid. Store in the fridge.


Saturday, May 30, 2009

Great Culinary Moments in Cinema # 1 - Fava beans and a nice Chianti

Look, he may have taken the whole carnivore thing a bit too far, but he was such a gourmand!



Quote of the day.....

"Great restaurants are, of course, nothing but mouth-brothels.
There is no point in going to them if one intends to keep one's belt buckled."
~Frederic Raphael

Soup of the Day - Cauliflower and Fennel

It was feeling a lot like comfort food weather today, so I decided to make a pot of soup. It was also feeling a lot like "I don't want to get out of my pajama pants and walk to the shops" weather too, so this soup was inspired by what I had in the fridge and pantry. (And my own laziness!)Although I served it hot, it would be great as a chilled soup, topped with chives and creme freche or a few slivers of smoked salmon. Another option would be served in little shot glasses as part of a cocktail or degustation menu.
Those that know me also know of my love affair with fennel and this soup has the lovely aromatic fragrance of my favourite vegetable and a beautiful velvety texture.

Cauliflower and Fennel Soup
with almond and parsley oil
Makes 4-6 servings

For the soup:
3 large brown onions, sliced (they can be quite thick slices)
3 cloves garlic, chopped
4 large potatoes, cut into chunks
1 large fennel bulb, stalk and green part removed, sliced
Half a cauliflower, cut into florets
1 cup chopped celery
Chicken stock (or water if you are a vegetarian) I just used Campbell's stock for this one!
Olive oil
Milk (or cream if you are feeling decadent)
Salt and pepper

For the topping:
Handful each of almonds and fresh continental parsley
1/3 of a cup good olive oil

Heat a generous splash of olive oil in a pot and cook the onions, garlic, celery and fennel until the onion starts to look a bit translucent. You do not want the ingredients to brown, so be gentle and turn down the heat if you have to.

Add the potatoes and cauliflower and combine well. Cook the mixture for another 5 minutes.

Cover the vegetables with stock/water and simmer on a medium heat until the vegetables are soft. While the veges are cooking, put the almonds, olive oil and parsley in a food processor or mortar and pestle and blend together, ready to use as the topping.

When the vegetables in the soup are done, puree the mixture till smooth. Add a splash of milk (or cream) and a tablespoon of butter - as little or as much as you want, depending on how rich you want the soup to be. Season well with salt and pepper. I like lots!

Serve hot or cold drizzled with the almond/parsley oil.


Review - Oscillate Wildly

Hi everyone - to kick things off, here is a recent review I previously posted on Facebook after visiting the fabulous "Oscillate Wildly":

As most of you would be aware, I was very excited last week to finally get to experience the recently "hatted" (2008 and 2009 SMH Good Food Guide) and much talked about Oscillate Wildly. This tiny 25 seat restaurant has been a fixture of Australia Street Newtown for a number of years and it's reputation has grown as a place to experience something special. It previously offered an a la carte menu and degustation, but now focuses on degustation only, the menu comprising only of the 8 degustation courses. There is no choice - and in this case, no choice is a good, good thing.

To me, there is something incredibly exciting about placing your tastebuds entirely in the hands of a chef who really knows their craft. You buy a ticket and you take your chances. It is fraught with risk, both for the chef and person on the receiving end. There is no fallback position and no substitutions. No,this is not the place for those who demand their dressing on the side or obsess about the inclusion of the unfamiliar.

So, to the menu.....The evening began with new season's chestnuts, roasted with walnuts and served with a light foam of watermelon and apple. The menu stated that it was also served with honey and the suprise was that the honey came in the form of a honey wafer. This dish had the most sublime texture - the crunch of the nuts, the lightness of the foam (the tang of the watermelon and apple a great combo with the earthy nuts), then the honey wafer that dissolved on your tongue, sweet and mellow.The raw tuna, cucumber and pomelo salad that followed tasted clean,clean,clean. Light, citrusy and slightly salty with just a touch of wasabi - not enough to make it hot, just enough to give you a crisp finish. The tuna was very thinly sliced and incredibly fresh - it practically melted as soon as it hit your tongue.

Coffee and gnocchi are not two things that you would normally associate with each other, but here they were in dish number three. Pillow soft potato gnocchi were served with roasted pepitas, coffee beans and a slightly salty,slightly bitter coffee emulsion. The emulsion and the gnocchi were pristine white against the chocolate tones of the pepitas and coffee beans. Again, the two textures provided such a contrast and it was as if the ingredients were made for each other. Who would have guessed?

Dish number four proved to be the savoury dish of the night for me - house made squid ink pasta and tiny whiting fillets (caught off the coast of Newcastle the waitperson advised) served with a velvety roasted corn custard, salmon roe, and a foam as salty and bracing as the sea itself. It was as if they had just gathered sea foam as the tide came in and spooned it on the plate. Oh-my-god!!!! What can I say about this dish???? The fish was so sweet and perfectly cooked, the little explosions of salmon roe, the salt, the sexy black of the pasta with a clean, sea flavour, the rich,rich corn custard. Sensual, decadent and goosebump making.

Dishes five and six saw us change gear flavour wise - a lot denser and very much autumn/winter style dishes. Firstly corn fed, free range chicken medallions the size of 50c pieces, served with puffed grains -buckwheat, wild rice, quinoa. A sprinkling of dehydrated celeriac leaves gave a lovely aromatic touch. The chicken was super moist and flavoursome, a great combo with the nuttiness of the grains. Next came venison rump served with roasted beetroot (tiny and sweet, the size of your thumb) and a mille- feuille of chocolate. The sweetness of the beetroot with the slight bitterness of the chocolate was so lush and was a perfect foil for the rare venison. The mille-feuille was like a small square of brownie to look at, but light as a feather on the tongue. Divine.

The first of the dessert courses arrives - watermelon served with tiny squares of clear coconut jelly, rich coconut puree and tangy lime marinated palm seeds - perfect after the richness of the venison course. The second dessert course was highlight number two for me - poached pear, a dark, dark chocolate ganache, a light chocolate wafer (think, brandy snap, but chocolate) sweet jellied basil seeds and sitting on top, a gleaming green orb of celery sorbet. The chocolate and the celery were a revelation.The chocolate so heavy, sweet and with a bitter edge, the celery so fresh and clear. How is it that these two things go so beautifully together? I think I may have actually swooned on the first spoonful.Trust me. This combo has totally turned my tastebuds onto a whole new frequency. I feel like my palate has been revitalised with just one bite.

If you think that this culinary tale ends here - hold up a second! Whilst enjoying after dinner coffee we were treated to house made jasmine flower lollipops and orange blossom jellies with what we were told was "sugar" on top. In a gorgeously quirky twist, the "sugar" turned out to be orange sherbet flavoured pop rocks! Yes, the stuff we ate as kids that explodes in your mouth. Loved ending the meal laughing as the pop rocks exploded in our mouths. Kind of tastebud fireworks! Which was only fitting really :)

It was worth waiting two and a half months for a reservation to experience something truly unique. Walking out of the restaurant, I knew that I had done more than eat good food - my palate had received an education. Oscillate Wildly makes me want to do just that. Superb.

You will find Oscillate Wildly @ 275 Australia Street, Newtown. NSW, Australia
$95 Degustation (without wine)
Reservations on (02) 9517 4700