Sunday, July 28, 2013

Show us your Mussels!

This week I managed to get my hands on some beautiful fresh "blue" mussels and was all set to cook them as I always do -  in a basic Nepolitana sauce with a little chilli, and a side serve of crusty bread - when I was reminded of the delicious Belgian style mussels that you find in many a Belgian Beer Café. Cooked simply in wine or cider, and served with frites (chips) and mayonnaise, they are delicious - and a change from the way I tend to cook my mussels.

My husband Andrew (aka Mr Smith) spent part of his childhood living in Belgium and was keen for me to recreate and serve up this dish that he ate as kid. A little research and I discovered that the ingredients were very simple and I was more than willing to give it a go. I even did a batch of frites and served them with some garlic mayo on the side to make the dish even more authentic. The result was a fragrant, tasty dish that was so quick and easy to prepare. It would be an ideal fast after work meal, or great to serve guests as a no hassle entrée or main course.

As with any produce, ensure that your mussels are super fresh - they should smell like the sea and not "fishy". To prepare them, scrub off any seaweed or dirt from the outside with cold water and de-beard them if necessary (pull out any tendrils of seaweed sticking out of the mussels) I used cider for my recipe, but many versions use white wine. I just happened to have cider in the house, so that's what went in. I also saw some versions of this dish that added a little cream to the sauce, to create a richer taste - feel free to add this if you want to.

I remember eating mussels cooked in this style many times in France, where they are also served with frites (French Fries). Despite the fact that they are known by this name over much of the world, the origin of the thinly cut fried potatoes that we call French Fries is actually Flemish, originating from Belgium. The earliest written account of people eating potatoes cooked in this style comes from the Meuese Valley, Belgium in 1680. They were eaten by fishermen and their families along with whole fried fish. So I guess you could say that fish and chips originated in Belgium too! Regardless of where they come from, they taste good and are the perfect accompaniment for a bowl of mussels.

This dish would be an ideal one to try if you are a bit unsure about cooking seafood, because it is very easy to do. The only thing you need to be aware of is to avoid overcooking the mussels. Once the shells have popped open, they are done and you are good to go. Mussels are a good choice if you aim to eat seafood in a sustainable way, and have the added bonus of being cheap and great for you.

Belgian Style Mussels
with Frites and Mayonnaise

You will need:
1-2kg fresh, cleaned mussels, 1 cup cider (I used a pear based cider, but apple is good too),1 white or brown onion finely chopped, 2 cloves garlic finely chopped, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 tablespoon salted butter, salt & pepper.

Note: 1kg of mussels will serve two people as a main course or four people as an entrée.

Method: Heat the olive oil to a medium heat and cook the onion and garlic until soft and translucent.

Add the cider, a few pinches of salt and half of the parsley. Simmer for 5 minutes or so.

Add the butter and stir until well combined. Add the mussels and stir them so that they are all covered in the sauce.

Put the lid on the pot and allow the mussels to steam for 5 - 8 minutes, stirring gently now and then. The mussels are cooked when the shells open.

As soon as the shells are open, remove the pot from the heat (avoid overcooking, or your mussels will be tough). Season with some salt and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Discard any mussels that do not open.

Serve in bowls with some of the sauce/pan juices spooned over the top. Sprinkle the rest of the parsley over the mussels and serve right away with crusty bread, or frites and mayonnaise.


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Beautiful Berowra Waters Inn

Approaching by boat -
Berowra Waters Inn from the water
It was my birthday yesterday, and my lovely husband decided to treat me to a long lunch at the Berowra Waters Inn. This destination restaurant has been on my must do list as it was closed for a while there, reopening with a new chef Brian Geraghty (ex Quay, Bilson's) and so I was thrilled to finally get the chance to enjoy their food and the gorgeous riverfront setting on my birthday. The restaurant is set amongst bushland on the Hawkesbury River, a one and a half hour drive from Sydney. The venue itself is only accessible by boat or seaplane - so if, like us, you have neither of these forms of transportation - you take advantage of the restaurant's private boat, that picks you up downriver at an agreed time, and ferries you back when your meal is over.
The short boat trip up to the restaurant is really gorgeous and sets the tone for the whole Berowra Waters Inn experience. The winter sun reflected off the water and river birds flew along the edges of the trees as we approached the inn to disembark at the private wharf. From the moment you step on the boat you feel as if you are destined for something special.
The Dining Room
After a warm welcome from the staff, who meet you at the wharf, you are ushered up the stairs to the simple, light filled dining room. The design makes the most of the river view, with floor to ceiling windows that let you watch wildlife and riverboats as you enjoy your meal. I think lunchtime really is a great time to visit Berowra Waters Inn, giving you the maximum opportunity to enjoy the stunning setting.
The menu is a degustation style, and diners choose from either four or seven courses, with or without matching wines. We opted for seven courses, and went for wine by the glass - I always find the matching wine option too much if I am having lots of courses, and would rather consult the Sommelier for a couple of recommendations instead. We started off with a glass of luscious Gosset Champagne (well, it was my birthday!) and settled down to an afternoon of some really beautiful dishes.
A very pretty looking amuse bouche of apple and aromatic cheese, and a velvety chicken liver parfait in a crispy tuille began our meal. Incredibly delicious, with such rich flavours and interesting textures. Definitely a winner.

Amuse Bouche -
Cheese "Apple" & Chicken Liver Parfait
I was really excited to see scallops on the menu, being one of my very favourite kinds of seafood. This dish was light and luscious, with beautifully pickled discs of root vegetables which worked so well with the rest of the ingredients. A great start to lunch.
Scallop, Horseradish Cream, Rye & Root Vegetables

The next seafood dish of confit ocean trout was soft, buttery and delicious - the addition of crispy dashi wafers made this dish such a delight to eat.

Confit Ocean Trout, Smoked Milk, Dashi & Lemon
A beautifully cooked, gelatinous and glazed piece of pork belly was the centerpiece for the next dish, with a reduction of honey mead (yum!) and paired with green tomato and sweet Moreton Bay bug meat. A crunchy rye crumb gave this dish lots of textural interest. Really loved this one.

Pork Belly, Honey Bug, Mead & Green Tomato
An indulgent combination of fish, prawns, pine nuts and winter truffles gave the next dish a very rich and indulgent feel. Sitting there, enjoying winter truffles, drinking good wine and looking out over the Hawkesbury, I must admit I felt very spoilt indeed!

Whitefish, Broccoli Veloute, Karid Prawn, Pinenut
& Winter Truffle
A meaty, savoury course of slow cooked Kobe brisket, leek and stinging nettle was full of rich winter flavours, without being overpowering. The caramelised leek was a delicious sweet accompaniment to the robust flavour of the beef.

Slow Cooked Kobe Brisket of Beef
Braised Leek, Stinging Nettle
The cheese course was one of my favourite dishes of the day. A light as air blue cheese parfait in a crispy shell, creamy red onion sorbet and fresh, shaved walnuts. A knockout combination and so beautiful on the plate. 

Blue Cheese Cigar, Red Onion Sorbet,
Shaved Walnut & Celery
A surprise pre-dessert of pannacotta and tangy, fresh raspberry was a great transition into the final dessert course. 

Yoghurt Pannacotta with Raspberry Foam
The finale was a hazelnut and mandarin dessert that was just beautiful - the toasty, almost marshmallow texture of hazelnut parfait with milk sorbet and a punchy, citrus mandarin gel. Really delicious and a great way to end the meal.

Hazelnut Parfait, Mandarin Gel & Milk Sorbet
Well..... almost the end of meal. The coffee is seriously good (funnily enough, the blend is from The Grounds Roasters in Alexandria, just around the corner from where we live) and some lovely sweet morsels to enjoy with it.
Grounds Roasters Coffee
Apple Cakes & Rose, Lime & Chocolate Macarons.
So, the verdict on Berowra Waters Inn? Just beautiful. Definitely one of the best meals we have ever eaten in Australia and in such a stunning setting. We both agreed we would visit again and check out the menu when the season changes. It really was a special way to spend my birthday.
If you wanted to enjoy the food and wine and not drive home, there is riverside accommodation nearby, or you could always stay on a Hawkesbury houseboat overnight. Now that would be really something special!

The sunlight over the Hawkesbury,
as we were leaving in the afternoon
For more information on reservations and how to get there, check out the Berowra Waters Inn website:  or call them on (02) 9456 1027

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Apple, Rhubarb and Pecan Muffins

A very good Sunday morning to all of you Gourmet Goddess peeps! Today I thought I would share a simple recipe for something that I baked last weekend, that turned out to be rather lovely. I decided to make a batch of muffins for brunch, and as I wasn't very motivated to get out of my track suit pants and go to the shops, it had to involve ingredients I already had on hand. I checked out the fruit bowl, the fridge and the pantry and came up with a combination of Pink Lady apples, a few stalks of rhubarb and a couple of handfuls of pecan nuts.

The result was these tasty, rustic fruit packed muffins.

Apple, Rhubarb and Pecan Muffins

The pecans add a wonderful textural element to these beauties - I chose to leave the skin on the apples for the same reason. The skins also have lots of fibre so they are better for you as well. The muffins aren't overly sweet and you can really taste the natural flavours of the fruit coming through, without this being overwhelmed by too much sugar. To add some warmth and spice, I included some cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg to the mixture, as well as a touch of vanilla. These ingredients add flavour without the sugar - feel free to add more than I state in the recipe if you want your muffins extra aromatic and spicy.

I would be inclined to use whatever you have in your fruit bowl as a basis for these muffins - any combination of apples, pears or even plums would work well. I adore rhubarb, but if you aren't keen on it, you could substitute chopped strawberries if you wanted to. Don't have pecans on hand? Chopped almonds, walnuts or hazelnuts would be great too.

Eat these muffins warm with good butter. Oh, and they would freeze well too.

Have a lovely Sunday!

You will need:
3 apples (I used Pink Lady variety), 3 or 4 stalks rhubarb, 2 cups self raising flour, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 free range egg, 1 cup milk, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used rice bran oil),
1 cup chopped pecans, 1/4 teaspoon allspice, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 2 pinches nutmeg.

Wash and trim the rhubarb and ensure no leaves are left on. Chop the stalks into small pieces. Core and chop the apples into small pieces (I leave the skin on). Spread the apple and rhubarb onto a lined baking tray and cook for 20 minutes in a preheated oven at 200C. Remove and allow to cool.

Whisk together the milk, oil, vanilla and egg. Set aside about a tablespoon of the pecans to sprinkle on the tops of the muffins once in the pan. In another bowl, combine the flour, sugar, remaining pecans, allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon.

Add the fruit to the flour mixture, then pour in the wet mixture. Combine gently until just mixed together. Do not over mix, or your muffins will be tough and flat. Spoon into a large muffin pan. Sprinkle the remaining pecans over the tops of the muffins.

Bake in a preheated oven at 180C for about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool in the pan before turning out the muffins. Makes 10 large sized muffins.


Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A Rainyday Sunday Lunch

Last Sunday we had friends over for lunch and I thought I'd share what was on the menu. Inspired by a pumpkin and beetroot salad I had the night we dined at Smolt in Hobart, I did my own take on this, but with the addition of sliced crispy skinned duck breast. I had two Burrawong Gaian duck breasts in the freezer which I wanted to use - and this was just the right amount for a starter for four. If you find Burrawong duck or chicken for sale where you are, grab it. They are brilliant quality and are also the only producer of meat chickens and ducks in Australia to be certified as True Free Range by Humane Choice.

I roasted some fresh beetroot and pumpkin (in separate pans, or the beetroot will stain everything), added some roasted sweet onion, mixed salad leaves and thinly sliced duck breast, which was cooked gently, skin down in a pan to gently render the fat and crisp the skin. I then transferred the duck to a moderate oven for 10 minutes or so to finish cooking, and rested the meat thoroughly before slicing. A few months ago I bought a bottle of locally made blackberry vinegar when we were down in Canberra, so this was the basis for the dressing. I also added some fruity extra virgin olive oil, wild bush honey from Tasmania, garlic, a little salt and pepper and a pinch of cayenne. The berry vinegar worked a treat with the rich duck meat. The salad was delicious served with freshly baked bread and good butter.

Using duck breast in a salad is a great way to serve duck if you are unsure about cooking this game meat. Cooking the whole bird can be a bit tricky - but mastering the duck breast is a whole lot easier. It also works out to be quite economical if you use it the way I did.  Two smallish duck breasts are more than enough to serve four adults as an entrée. Whatever you serve with it, a dressing or sauce with a bit of acidity works best with this, or any other game meat for that matter. It cuts through the richness and highlights the natural sweetness of the meat.

Duck, Pumpkin & Beetroot Salad 
With Blackberry Vinegar and Honey Dressing
It was cold and raining outside, so for the main course I went for ultra comfort food - pork belly, creamy mash and parmesan roasted zucchini and beans, served with a rich horseradish gravy. To cook the pork, I rubbed it with salt, fennel seed, some crushed native lemon myrtle and pepper berries and laid it on a bed of roughly chopped onion, celery, garlic and Granny Smith apples. Once the meat was cooked and resting on a plate, I used a spoon to smash up the now very soft apples and onions left in the pan to form what I decided to call "apple smash". Presto! Your own chunky apple sauce and you didn't have to do a thing.
Pork Belly -
Served with Parmesan Baked Zucchini, Green Beans, Garlic Mash,
Horseradish Gravy and "Apple Smash"

A roast is a really good low maintenance option when you are having lunch or dinner guests. I've yet to find a meat eater who doesn't love  a roast dinner and vegetarians are easily accommodated too, if you choose the best seasonal vegetables to roast. To make things a bit more interesting, I try to serve a sauce or accompaniment that is a little bit different - like doing polenta instead of potatoes, or tossing the roasted veges in a dressing and some fresh herbs to make a tasty vegetable salad. It's a good idea to check out the greengrocer and see what vegetables are in season where you are and base your menu around those. It's a great excuse to try a vegetable you haven't had before or maybe take an old favourite and serve it in a different way.

I didn't serve a dessert on this occasion, as I felt that the dishes were pretty substantial. It ended up being a good call, as we were all more than satisfied after the main course. I had enough leftover pork to use the next day for a super fast Monday night dinner. I chopped the pork up into smaller pieces and added it to rice, spring onions, peas, mushrooms and a quickly made chopped up omelette to make pork fried rice. Delicious and ready in 10 minutes. Gotta love leftovers!