Sunday, November 27, 2011

Pork, Cider and Apples

Pork and apples really is a classic combination, and today's recipe uses a leg of pork and Granny Smith apples, along with the delicious addition of my favourite summer drink - apple cider. The cider, pork and apples combine to form a beautiful rich gravy with the perfect balance and sweetness and tartness. Fenel seeds add some subtle aromatics that take the flavour to another level.

 This dish is very versatile. Serve it as is, with vegetables or rice. Turn it into a fancy cottage pie by adding creamy mash to the top and browning it in the oven. Or do what I did and use it as a filling for a wonderful golden crusted pie. Individual pies would be lovely too.

Be sure to choose a good quality cider for this dish - just like wine, if you aren't happy to drink it, it doesn't belong in your food! There are lots of good ones around these days. My favourite cider at the moment is Monteith's Crushed Apple Cider from the rugged west coast of New Zealand.  It is usually sold in packs of 4 bottles - which works out great. One for the recipe and three to drink while you wait for the pork to cook! This is a slow cooked dish (2 hours), so I don't recommend making this when you rush home from work. I cooked it on Sunday morning, let it cool and then popped my pastry on the top to cook at dinner time. You could also make it the day before you wanted to serve it. Easy.

Pork, Apple & Cider Pie
Ready to serve with an icy cold Monteith's Cider

Apples make this dish taste fabulous, but did you know that there may be something in that old saying "an apple a day keeps the doctor away"? Apples and apple cider have a high concentration of phenolics and antioxidants which can be helpful in preventing heart disease, cancer, and other ailments. Bring on the Monteith's I say!

Other good ciders to look out for are Pipsqueak Cider from Little Creatures Brewery in Western Australia and Huon Cider which comes from Tasmania. If you can't get these, Magner's or Bulmer's - probably the most common cider you see around, is fine. Strongbow have been selling cider for a long time, but I'm not a huge fan of it. There are better ones out there and any large bottle shop will be sure to have a selection.

Served with creamy mash and Sauteed cabbage
Served on my favourite second hand French  flea market plates

This recipe will easily serve 4 to 6 people and is ideal to freeze as well. So don't be put off by the lengthy cooking time. Make it when you have time and heat it up when you don't. I used a smallish leg of pork for my dish, but any diced pork with a little bit of fat on it would be fine. Just don't choose pork that is too lean for this - you are cooking it for a long time, so lean cuts will just dry out. Save those for grilling or pan frying. You can also experiment with different varieties of apples - but I recommend using apples that are a little on the tart side for best results. The eschallots break down, caramelise and become very sweet, so a tart apple stops the dish from being too cloying.

You will need: 1.5 - 2kg boneless leg of pork, 10-15 eschallots, About 330ml apple cider (I used 1 small bottle of Monteith's Crushed Apple Cider - my favourite), 2 cloves garlic, 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 litre chicken stock, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1 tablespoon cornflour, 1 tablespoon fennel seeds roughly chopped, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley stalks, 3 Granny Smith apples peeled and cored, salt and pepper, olive oil.

Method: Preheat the oven to 160C.

Remove the skin from the leg of pork. Cut the pork into cubes about 4 cm each. Place them in a bowl with a splash of olive oil, the paprika and a very generous seasoning of salt and pepper. Mix well (your hands are best for this)

Heat a pan on the top of the stove that can be used on your stovetop and then transferred to the oven - cast iron is great for this. Splash in some olive oil and cook the pork in batches. You want it to have a bit of colour, but it doesn't need to be cooked through. Set the pork aside.

Now put the eshallots in the pan with the fennel seeds, garlic and parsley stalks. Cook them for a minute, then add the pork and stir well. Pour in the stock and the cider. Add the mustard and season with salt and pepper. Put a lid on the pot and transfer to the oven - preheated to 160C. Cook for 1 hour with the lid on.

Cut the apple into bite sized pieces. In a cup, mix the cornflour and a couple of tablespoons of water together until smooth.

Remove the pork from the oven, stir through the cornflour mixture and the apples. Turn up the oven to 200C. Return the pot to the oven and cook uncovered for another hour, stirring occasionally.

You can eat the pork at this stage with mash or vegetables - or like I did today, allow the mixture to cool, transfer to a pie dish, cover with pastry and bake until golden to make a delicious pie. I served mine with creamy mash and sauteed cabbage.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

20 Questions with Gourmet Goddess

I am frequently asked questions about cooking and my thoughts on various other food related stuff, so this week I thought I would answer a few of the most commonly asked ones. So ladies and gentlemen, welcome to...... 20 Questions with Gourmet Goddess!

1. What is your earliest food memory?
Being a young kid and sitting at our kitchen table, eating prawns and Blue Manna Crab still steaming hot, pulled right from the boiling water with bread and butter and vinegar. We used newspapers as placemats and then used them to wrap up all the shells afterwards. It was summer in W.A and we would go prawning in along the Swan River at night and bring home our catch which would be cooked right away. I remember how fresh and beautiful the prawns were and how I got to stay up late on a "prawn night". Bonus!

2. What is your greatest culinary “guilty pleasure”?
A Chiko Roll. I adore them (and yes, I know how wrong that is!)

3. Gas or electricity?
I prefer to cook with gas. I find electricity really hard to control as effectively. Unfortunately I’m stuck with an electric stove, so I just have to put up with it! My very favourite form of cooking is actually outside, over coals. Nothing tastes better than food cooked that way.

4. Favourite chef?
I mean, do you really have to ask? Heston Blumenthal of course. A true culinary alchemist and constant inspiration.

5. Most overrated chef?
Donna Hay. Tying a pastel coloured doily and some raffia around a cupcake does not a chef make.

6. What are your pantry must haves?
Olive oil, capers, good quality Italian tomatoes, Maldon sea salt, Kampot pepper, anchovies, kalamata olives, good quality ready made stock – and a few pots of fresh herbs at the back door.

7. Guests arrive unexpectedly, the fridge is practically empty and there’s no time to go to the shops. What do you serve?
Spaghetti from the pantry, cooked till al dente and served in a gigantic shared bowl with a simple sauce of fresh herbs from the garden, garlic, chilli, fruity extra virgin olive oil and plenty of freshly grated parmesan.

8. What is your favourite comfort food?
Lasagne, with crispy edges and plenty of bechemel sauce. And when I'm unwell? A big bowl of fragrant Vietnamese Pho with plenty of fresh chilli. It never fails to make me feel better.

9. Most misused/overused ingredient?
Sweet chilli sauce. It isn’t the only condiment people!! Stop glugging it onto everything. (I know a local pub that even serves it on their nachos. Ewwww!) And second in the misused catergory - truffle oil – it may make your dish sound a bit more posh, but it is a very distinct flavour that needs to be paired with other ingredients carefully. Beautiful when you get it right – hideous if you get it wrong. And most people unfortunately get it wrong.

10. Best meal you’ve eaten in the last year?
The degustation menu at Heston Blumenthal’s restaurant, The Fat Duck. It was a magical mystery tour that changed how I look at food forever.

11. Biggest restaurant gripe?
Restaurant patrons who treat wait staff like dirt. Just because you are paying for a meal doesn’t give you the right to treat the people serving you like some kind of indentured servant. If you want something or aren’t happy about something, expressing this calmly and politely will usually do the trick. From my observations, the worst culprits for treating wait staff badly seem to be middle aged “professional” men in high end restaurants, doing an “alpha male” turn. Please note gentlemen- speaking to staff in a condescending tone, or just being plain rude doesn’t make you look like a big man. Just an ignorant dickhead.

12. Favourite cooking show?
Gourmet Farmer (SBS) I was completely riveted by the adventures of food critic Matthew Evans as he began life on the land in Tasmania. Self sufficiency, beautiful, honest food and that stunning scenery has me glued to the TV every Thursday night. It has also prompted a planned trip to Tasmania and an overwhelming desire to acquire piglets.

13. Sweet or Savoury?
Savoury hands down. Salt in particular – I just love salty flavours. I could happily give up all things sweet forever if I had to.

14. What culinary skill would you most like to add to your repertoire?
Cheese making – and I plan to make this a reality in 2012.

15. “Masterchef” – appalling reality TV or inspirational?
A bit of both actually. I love that the show has got people more interested in cooking and food, particularly kids. I love that it celebrates cooking as a creative outlet. I also love seeing some of my favourite chefs alongside the contestants doing their thing. But there are lots of niggles - primarily the insane level of product placement, followed by the histrionic outbursts of the contestants. I vote that they bring in a rule that if you start blubbering, you get disqualified instantly! Chefs don’t cry. I mean, do you see Peter Gilmore sobbing over his snow egg or Tetsuya having a weep as he plates up his confit ocean trout? No. More cooking, less crying folks! Then there is the infuriating dragging out and then recapping of…… every….. single…… moment, followed by endless commercial breaks. It was this that has ultimately made me lose interest in the show. That and the random guest choices – case in point, the Dalai Lama. What were they thinking? It trivialised him and came across as tacky and cringe worthy. A bit of respect please.

16. Favourite drink?
When I can get it, Cape Grimm sparkling rain water from Tasmania. I have never tasted sparkling water so pure and delicious in my life. And when I can’t get it? Sydney tap water made fizzy by the magic that is the Soda Stream. You thought I was going to say booze, didn’t you?

17. Do you ever get sick of cooking?
Very, very rarely. That’s when I remember that home delivery was invented for a reason.

18. Biggest mistake home cooks make?
Under seasoning food. A bit of judicious seasoning can turn a dish from bland and nothing special to delicious. I think people are too scared of salt and pepper these days. Just taste as you go and you can’t go wrong.

19. Food philosophy?
Firstly, eat seasonal produce – it’s cheaper, it’s healthier, the quality is better and you get the pleasure of experiencing the change of the seasons. We were never meant to eat the same food all year round. Secondly, support local producers - not the big name supermarkets - wherever you can. It helps the local economy, it means that your food hasn’t travelled as far to get to you (meaning a lighter carbon footprint and better quality food) and you are more likely to be able to trace the provenance of the food you eat, which means you can make informed choices about what you are consuming.

20. What would your last meal be?
A menu cooked by Heston Blumenthal, with all the thrills, spills, dramatic presentation and culinary excitement he could muster. Something to shake up all of my senses and go out with a bang!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

On the road with Gourmet Goddess - South Australia

When I found out recently that I was heading to South Australia for a work purposes, I decided that I would add on a few days of annual leave so that we could take a drive to the famous Barossa Valley wine district and have a mini holiday. The last time I visited Adelaide was over 20 years ago and I was only there a few hours, passing through on the way to somewhere else. South Australia has become a real food and wine hub, and I discovered that South Australians are fiercely proud of their local produce. I consulted many a food guide and magazine to find out what Adelaide and the Barossa had to offer, to be sure we didn't miss out on something fantastic.

Our first dinner stop  in Adelaide was Celsius Restaurant, which had been getting lots of positive press since opening last year. Executive Chef Ayhan Erkoc sources organic vegetables from his family farm in Murray Bridge where his brother and business partner Kasim picks everything fresh daily for the restuarant.  They are able to grow different and interesting vegetables like spiky Indian cucumbers, salsify and heirloom varieties of vegetables. Kasim has also ensured that there are flowers to be picked daily too, which makes the menu fresh, delicious and delicate. We opted for the degustation menu to give us the opportunity to sample a range of dishes and we were blown away by the flavours, the freshness and the beautiful presentation. Here are my 4 favourites.

Kingfish with Artichoke 
& Spring flowers, Nasturtium Leaves

The kingfish course was a standout - so juicy and succulent, strewn with lovely fresh flowers and leaves with a fragrant buerre blanc that worked perfectly with the astringent nature of the artichoke.

Lamb Sweetbreads
with Parsnip and Mushroom

The lamb sweetbreads were rich and unctious, served with a velvety parsnip puree that left you wanting to lick the plate. The mushrooms gave the dish an intense savoury character that made it one of the best dishes of the night.

The cheese course arrived looking so pretty, I was reluctant to destroy it. Impossibly delicate beetroot wafers, chervil, nasturtium flowers and the finest quality French chervre (goat milk cheese). Perfect. This dish was absolutely superb - the cheese firm on the outside but creamy and runny in the middle - swoon! I loved that the cheese course was an actual dish, not just the standard cheese/ lavosh/ quince paste presentation that most restaurants do these days. A bit of thought and creativity goes a long way.

The Cheese Course
Chervre with Beetroot

Dessert was a beautiful melange of middle eastern flavours - sheep milk icecream, rose jelly, a light as air sumac espuma (like a mousse), nutty candied pistachios and a syrup soaked lemon sponge. The fragrances were amazing and the flavours all worked beautifully. A really impressive dessert.

Rose Jelly, Candied Pistachios, Sheep Milk Icecream,
Sumac Espuma & Lemon Sponge

Across the road from our hotel in Adelaide, we noticed a small market setting up and decided to explore. We found a fabulous stall run by a company called Beach Organics, that make a range of salt and spice mixes, as well as selling wild, hand harvested honey and vanilla. At first it was the beautiful presentation of the stall that drew me, but after tasting a range of products, I was won over by their lovely blends.

Beautiful Salt Blends from Beach Organics
at Hindmarsh Square

I came away with a selection of their products, including a pepper blend that contained "long" pepper, which I had seen and tasted in Indonesia but had never been able to get in Australia. As well as providing fantastic products, the company is committed to sustainable and ethical practices - which is just another reason to support them in my book.

Spices and Pepper Blends from Beach Organics
at Hindmarsh Square

If you can't get to the stall at Hindmarsh Square in Adelaide, you can purchase their products online. To find out more, visit the website

When we reached the Barossa Valley the beauty of the place was really overwhelming - the open skies and the gorgeous vineyards are exceptional. When I think of the Barossa Valley, it is impossible not to think of one of it's most well known resident Maggie Beer. Maggie is truly one of our culinary treasures - cook, writer, sustainable food advocate and all round delightful woman. We were lucky enough to be staying only a few minutes down the road from her farm, so we dropped in to her farm shop for a glass of wine and mini picnic baskets packed with delicious Maggie Beer produce. It was lovely sitting outside overlooking the dam enjoying our picnic and a lazy afternoon. Maggie's husband Colin is a wine maker and we enjoyed a delicious Barossa Viognier from his vineyard with lunch and took a bottle away with us to drink later.

Mini Picnic Baskets
Maggie Beer's Farm Shop

Our accomodation in the Barossa Valley was the stunning Stonewell Cottages - we chose a seculded farmhouse in the middle of Stonewell Vineyard, set on a lake teeming with water birds. It was total bliss not seeing another soul and just enjoying the peace and quiet. It also helped that the house came with a whole range of creature comforts including a huge spa, gourmet breakfast ingredients and lovely decor. On Sunday we decided to cook lunch on the BBQ in our garden, overlooking the lake. On the menu was delicious South Australian Mallalla lamb, which we butterflied and smeared with herbs and olive oil and served with fresh vegetables. Add a few glasses of Colin Beer's delicious wine and it was a perfect Sunday lunch. 

Sunday Lunch
Local Mullala Lamb cooked on the BBQ,
a bottle of wine and a vineyard to ourselves

The Barossa offers a wide range of dining options, but the top of the heap is Apellation. Named the 2011 Australian Good Food and Travel Guide Top Restaurant in South Australia, it enjoys a reputation for fine dining and one of the best wine lists in the country. There was no question that we had to pay them a visit. Once again, we chose the degustation menu so that we could try a range of dishes. The menu changes daily (always a good sign - it means that the kitchen is on their toes and the selections are based on the best seasonal produce)

Appellation Dining Room 

Head Chef Ryan Edwards offered a well balanced selection of dishes - great flavours and presented in a classic style (no crazy stacks or over the top flourishes here)  The rare roasted breast of pigeon with confit mushroom, semolina gnocci and game glaze was a standout dish for me with the tartlet of lamb's tongue with caramelised onions and caperberries not far behind. The meal was fantastic and I can see why Apellation is rated so highly. To be honest though, for my taste, I preferred the degustation menu we enjoyed at Celsius a lot more - it had the wow factor and that extra sense of creativity that appealed to me. Don't get me wrong, Apellation delivers in every way, food and service wise, but Celsius had that extra spark that would make me return for more.

I love food markets and am forever bemoaning the fact Sydney lacks a high quality, centrally located market. Flemington is a pain to get to, is far from user friendly and in my experience the produce isn't always great. Paddy's Market is awful - cheap plastic shoes and handbags seem to be the focus here, instead of good food. There are some great little farmer's markets around, but they often don't alow you to get the majority of what you want in one place. Previously, I have always rated Melbourne's Victoria Market as the best I have seen in Australia, but sorry Melbourne, you have officially lost your crown - deposed by the fabulous Adelaide Central Market. Wow. What a place.

Organic Food Stall
Adelaide Central Markets

The market boasts a large selection of stalls under one roof, everything from fabulous cheeses and charcuterie items, coffee suppliers, bakeries and specialist butchers, fish mongers, honey, organic and standard fruit and vegetables, patisseries, little cafes where you can stop mid shopping for a restorative pot of tea, plants and flowers and lots more. It was my dream market come true. I'm very jealous of you Adelaide folk who have all of this on your doorstep! I noticed that there was a big focus on local produce too, which was brilliant.

Delicious Produce
Adelaide Central Markets

I had a fabulous time in South Australia and feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to sample some of the first class food experiences that it has to offer. It was a food lover's delight really. Special mention should also be made of the amazing roses that we saw growing everywhere we went - the climate must really be perfect for them. Every specimen, from those growing by the vineyards in the Barossa, to those in suburban gardens looked like they belonged in a flower show. Just beautiful. You could also smell them everywhere you went. Pity I couldn't bring any home to Sydney with me.

If you get the chance to visit South Australia, don't forget to enjoy some of that fabulous food - and the wine of course. Highly recommended as a foodie destination, and such lovely countryside too. Good times.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Salted Almond and Pistachio Caramel

I have just returned from a fanatstic week in South Australia - actually a work trip, but I decided to take a bit on annual leave at the end of the official work duties to explore the city and spend a few days in the famous wine region, the Barossa Valley. I am preparing a full report for you - I discovered some fabulous food and beautiful local produce -  and I will be posting my South Australia report with pics later in the week.

In the meantime, I thought I would share something that I made a couple of weeks ago. I decided to channel my inner Willy Wonka and have a go at making confectionary - something I haven't tried since I destroyed one of my mother's best cooking pots making honeycomb when I was a kid. Disastrous. Burnt, rock hard sugar that was impossible to remove. I actually dug a hole in the backyard when my mother was at work and buried the pot to avoid getting into serious trouble. You can understand why I haven't attempted to make confectionary again since then!

Anyway, as it turns out, today's recipe is really easy, but does require your total attention as the sugar will turn to caramel quite quickly and needs to be monitored all the way to avoid it burning - burnt sugar = yuk!! I love salted caramel, and this delicious brittle uses those flavours, along with the crunch of almonds and the delicious taste of pistachios to make a tasty sweet treat.

Some hints before you start: The sugar syrup you will be making is very, very hot and can do some serious damage if you burn yourself with it. Also, being hot sugar, it sticks to things. Be very careful and do not leave the pot unattended at any stage. Also, do not use metal or plastic utensils during the process - wood is the only option. Plastic will melt and metal will get too hot in your hand. And don't be tempted to dip your finger in for a taste before it is on the tray and cooled - otherwise, ouch!

Freshly poured and waiting to set

After you have finished the cooking, the pot may end up with hard caramel on the sides and this can be a pain in the butt to clean the conventional way. Make it easy by filling the pot with water and letting it boil. The caramel will just melt off and this will save you time and hassle.

Salted Almond & Pistachio Caramel
Simply crack - and eat

You will need: 5 cups white sugar, 2 cups water, 100g butter, 1 cup whole blanched roasted almonds, 1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios, 1/2 teaspoon quality salt (Murray River Pink Salt or Maldon are both good)

Method: Line a large metal tray with baking paper.

In a heavy bottomed pot place the sugar and water and bring it to the boil, stirring occasionally. Allow the mixture to continue to simmer until the water evaporates (about 15 minutes) The sugar will seem like it has become a dry mess at this stage but stay with it, stirring frequently.

The sugar will begin to turm a golden caramel brown and all of the granules of sugar will eventually dissolve. Once this has happened, remove the caramel from the heat. Add the butter and the salt and mix it through for a minute of so, until is is totally combined.

Now stir through the almonds and pistachios. Pour the mixture onto the papered baking tray and spread the mixture quickly, so it is in one thin, even layer that goes right to the edge.

Allow the caramel to cool. Snap into pieces to serve and store in an airtight jar or container. Try to stop at one piece!

To make praline - after you have broken the caramel into pieces, whizz them in the food processor until they are the texture of breadcrumbs. Use this praline for topping cakes, folded through icecream or as a component in other desserts.