Sunday, September 26, 2010

Lamb & Rosemary Ragu with a Hint of Chilli

My house was oddly quiet. Chris, Paige and Dora (our beagle puppy) headed off to the park and Zoe was having a sleepover at a friends house so I sat down to enjoy the quiet. But the peace only lasted about 20 minutes ( too hot at the park), but I am determined to produce this post as it has been waiting in the wings for some time, it was my favourite winter dish so I thought it would make a good farewell to winter and those who live in Cape Town are sure to get a cold snap in October to enjoy it. For those of us in Karratha, turn the aircon to 21 and just pretend because our winter is over for sure! Even though our winter temperature bottomed out at about 17 degrees I made this one afternoon and left in it simmering gently in the oven while we went down to the beach to enjoy our glorious winter weather. As we walked through the front door the aromas were heady with rosemary and rich tomato and even Zoe, my least adventurous eater, blurted out that something smelled delicious. I quickly cooked up some pasta and both kids dived in - as did the big kids! It was so yummy, Paige implored me immediately to please make this all the time. Even Zoe polished her plate and went back for seconds and then thirds. Unheard of in this house. As usual it is really simple to make but delivers so much in flavour it is worth the long slow cooking time.

Lamb & Rosemary Ragu with a hint of Chilli

I used a small leg of lamb which I boned and cubed myself, you could just as easily buy ready cubed lamb - I would have preferred a shoulder but my choice in Karratha is limited and I have to make do with what I can find. You could also easily substitute a nice fore-quarter cut of beef such as bolo or brisket.

For the rest of the recipe you will need:
  • Extra Virgin Olive oil
  • 4 - 5 large Garlic cloves peeled and bruised
  • 2 bottles Tomato Passata (750ml each)
  • 1 t Fresh rosemary chopped
  • 1/2 t Dried Chilli flakes
  • Parmesan rinds (if you have leftovers freeze them - they are great added to stews)
  • 3 Anchovy fillets
  • Salt

Heat your oven to 150 Celsius Pour a large glug of olive oil into a heavy cast iron pot which is suitable for the oven and warm through.
Add the garlic cloves and sauté for a few minutes to release the oils and brown slightly and then remove them from the pot and set aside.
Turn the heat right up and then brown the meat in small batches - if you add to much the meat never browns and starts oozing liquid. Remove each batch as it becomes well browned and then do the next batch.
Once all the meat is browned - reduce the heat to low and put all the meat and the garlic cloves back in the pot.

I also browned the bone and added that to the pot for extra flavour - I removed it before serving.

Add the rosemary, chilli flakes and anchovies and a little salt and fry for a minute.
Don't be afraid of the chilli it really makes the dish and both my kids lapped it up.

Add the tomato Passata and bring up to a simmer.
Put the Parmesan rind in (you will remove this at the end but it adds a richness and creaminess to the dish) and put the lid on.
Transfer to the oven and leave to simmer 3 hours.

Serve with buttered pasta shells or Casarecce (which is what I used). You need a pasta that holds the sauce well. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and serve with a bold, juicy Shiraz. This is a seriously rich and decadent dish. Definitely at the top of my list of favourites

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hello Bloggers. It is finally school holidays and so I find myself with a little spare time on my hands to finally get blogging again. It is a cool, grey day in the usual sunny Karratha, I think it is the closest we are going to get to winter up here so while the weather is cool I am trying to enjoy some of the wonderful winter veggies I love. The humble pumpkin is on the top of my list and there are so may great ways to prepare it. My husband loves risotto so what better pairing. I just love roasted pumpkin as it really brings out the sweetness of the pumpkin and I particularly like using butter instead of olive oil here as it caramelises so much better. Now normally I would have roasted my pumpkin with some lovely fresh sage but I didn't feel like going all the way to the shops just for that - I used what I had in the refrigerator but feel free to use a handful if you have.

It's slightly time-consuming to make risotto but pretty easy if you follow a few simple rules, but worth the trouble, it is a very comforting meal. To make enough for 4 you will need: 1/2 a large pumpkin or 1 small pumpkin peeled, seeded and cubed. Place the cubed pumpkin in a medium sized roasting tin and dot with about 3 - 4 knobs of butter and sprinkle with Maldon salt and cracked white pepper - add some fresh sage leaves at this point if you have. Roast at 200C for about 20 - 30 mins or until golden and soft - toss a few times during cooking.

To make the risotto:

Roasted pumpkin ( mash half and keep half cubed)
30ml Extra Virgin Olive Oil

2 cups Arborio Rice - it is really important to use this variety of rice as it is more starchy than normal white grain rice and plumps up gorgeously to make a creamy, unctuous final dish.

1 Onion, finely diced - the brown ones or shallot

1 Clove Garlic, crushed

200ml dry white wine
6 cups Chic
ken Stock - have this boiling in a separate saucepan on the stove before you begin. You may need a little extra or slightly less
1 T Butter

1/2 cup Parmigiano


Crisp Fried Sage Leaves - kept from roasting

Add the olive oil to a medium sized but heavy based pot and heat.
Add the onion/shallot and fry gently until soft and translucent - this is one of those rules you really need to observe because if the onion is crunchy it will ruin the dish. Test
by tasting a small piece from time to time. Onion will take 8 - 10 minutes to soften and shallots a little less.
Once the onion is soft add the garlic and sauté a minute or so until fragrant.
Now add the rice to the pot and stir really well to coat all the grains with oil.
Turn up the heat and add the white wine and stir continuously - this is where it gets a little time consuming - you must keep stirring!!

Once the wine has almost all absorbed add the mashed pumpkin and stir well.
Turn the heat to low and then begin adding the boiling chicken stock 1 ladle-full at a time, stirring all the time until each ladle-full is absorbed before adding the next. The rice should be creamy and soft but not mushy, the only way to test it is to taste it.
When done the dish should not have too much liquid but should still be moist. Once all the liquid is in and you think it is ready (this process should have taken about 15 - 20 minutes) turn off the heat, remembering it keeps cooking after the heat is turned off.
Add the butter and Parmigiano and stir well.
Season well with salt and cracked white pepper
Heat the remaining cubed pumpkin in the microwave while you dish up the risotto.

Top with the diced pumpkin, a generous sprinkling of grated Parmigiano and a few crisp sage leaves. Enjoy with a nice crisp, lively Sauvignon Blanc.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Falling in love with Celeriac

Today I fell in love! The object of my admiration was not the prettiest specimen but it was love at first taste! I've seen it prepared on cooking shows and read about so when I saw Celeriac at the supermarket today I had to have one. But for someone who has over 100 recipe books I simply couldn't find a single recipe for celeriac soup so I had to resort to the internet.

I found a gorgeous looking picture and used that as my inspiration. I know my SA readers won't find celeriac easily but if by any chance you are at a farmers market and stumble across them buy it immediately! After some reading up I discovered you should by a medium sized one with no soft spots - apparently they get as big as rock melons and those can be a bit woody. It's surprisingly soft - I thought it would be harder to peel and slice. It wasn't quite as soft as, say, an aubergine but nowhere near as hard as butternut. Definitely unique! You also need to peel it and use it quickly or it discolours (or put it into acidulated water - that just means water with some fresh lemon juice squeezed into it).

I used:
1 Medium celeriac - peeled and cubed
1T Olive oil
1T Butter
Maldon salt - pinch

1 Onion finely chopped
Little olive oil for frying
1L Chicken stock
500ml Milk2 Potatoes peeled and cubed
Maldon Salt
White Pepper to taste

Sour Cream
Spring Onions
Croutons or French bread

I roasted the celeriac at about 200C with a little olive oil, a generous sprinkling of Maldon salt and a knob of butter until it was golden brown and soft.

While it was roasting and I was on the phone to my cousin who is expecting her first baby, I sweated the onions until they were soft and golden brown.
Once the celeriac is ready add it to the onions and add the stock, milk, potatoes salt and white pepper. Simmer until the vegetables are really soft. Allow the mixture to cool slightly and then process until smooth in a blender - do small batches so you don't have soup all over your kitchen.
Place in a pot and re-heat - add a little more milk if the soup is too thick and then season to taste.

I served it with buttery croutons, spring onions and a dollop of sour cream finished off with cracked black pepper.
It was so unctuous and delicious with a slightly earthy, woody taste and backnotes of celery. Really heart-warming.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Slice Of Pizza

I have left the dishwasher unpacked, beds unmade and bathrooms in a mess because if I don't do this now I will never get to it. I have a long "TO DO" list again today but I have decided to set it all aside. I am also being a very neglectful (is that a word) mother, having left Paige ensconced in front of the television so I can indulge in PIZZA! I have vowed to turn over a new leaf and be healthy so am busy eating my bowl of oats as I type - how we have to multi task to get everything done.

Who doesn't like pizza? OK, so my dad doesn't like pizza but aside from him I don't think there is anyone else on the planet. I know why my dad doesn't like it, it's because he's never had the real deal, in fact I think he's only ever had that thick bready stuff they call pizza with bad tomato sauce, low cost yellow cheddar cheese and appallingly poor quality toppings. YUK.

I am so lucky to have had the real deal, so much so that I now struggle to do take out pizza which is usually just like what I have described.Good pizza is truly heavenly, it should be made with love and care, with a huge amount of thought going into the quality of the base and then topped with really scrummy, decadent toppings. I had a pizza like that in Italy a few years ago. Simon Padoan makes his pizzas using a 100 year old "biga" or starter dough, local spring water and specially milled, stone ground, local organic flour.
This is his mission statement:

"Our pizzas become a journey through flavours and are served one at a time. Different rising times and consistencies with a single aim: to give you a thrill."

And what a thrill it was! Deliciously, Mouthwateringly good. Honestly a slice of heaven. The base was thin and crispy (not crunchy) with a slight bend. I think a searingly hot pizza oven is the trick here, you just can't get the heat in a domestic oven. The toppings were simple but gutsy. My FAVOURITE was cream filled mozzarella or "Burrata" simply the most decadent cheese in the world (see picture below because if you've never seen it, you have no point of reference and it is nothing like that plasticy stuff you buy at the supermarket) with thin shavings of Parma Ham. Other good ones were, Buffalo Mozzarella with Date Tomatoes - so simple but so satisfying, the tomatoes were plump and sweet and the cheese dreamy. The one I have tried to replicate was another favourite:

Sheeps Milk Pecorino flakes with Ligurian Olives and a Basil emulsion. I mean, what more can a girl ask for?

Burrata - A fresh Italian cheese made with Mozzarella on the outside and cream in the centre which pours out when the cheese is sliced open.

So here is the dough ready to be rolled at my favourite PIZZA restaurant EVER

Simon putting topped pizzas in the oven - these were topped with Sardinian Anchovies

This is what I discovered when trying to get a thin base without a pizza oven:
First of all kids love pizza and it is another brilliant way to get them involved in the kitchen. Give them a small piece of dough a table outside, a rolling pin and some flour and they will be well amused for at least 1/2 an hour. Once you have rolled the dough out and let it do its thing they love to help put the toppings on. It may sound simple but they get such a sense of achievement when it comes out the oven. So onto the recipe. It is a little time consuming to get the dough ready but you need to do it in the morning and then you can forget about it until you need to add the toppings - that is the second trick!

Flour - I use about 100g per person and DO try and buy the Italian "OO" flour, most supermarkets have it these days, otherwise you local Italian Deli and if all else fails use strong white bread flour.
Olive oil - about 1 tablespoon per 100g flour
Fine salt - 5g per 200g flour
Yeast - fresh is preferable - about 5g per 100g flour. If you don't have fresh instant dry will be ok but you won't get such a strong yeasty flavour
Water - this should be warm around 20C

Place the flour, yeast and olive oil in a food mixer with the dough attachment, add the water and mix 3 minutes or so and then add the salt (salt kills yeast if it comes into contact with it in a dry form - that is why you add it once the dough has formed). Mix for about 6 minutes. The dough should be soft and sticky

Turn the dough onto a work surface and press holes into it with your fingers and then fold it over and leave it to rest for 20 mins.Now get some baking trays ready. Divide the dough equally between how much flour you used, i.e. If you used 400g flour make 4 balls. Lightly flour the work surface and roll out each ball as thinly as you can and then place them on baking sheets and put them in the fridge - you can leave them here for up to 8 hours before topping! ( I believe this is the secret to the thin base in my domestic oven). Make a lovely rich, tomatoey sauce using either very ripe fresh tomatoes or tinned Italian tomatoes. I don't add like using onion in my pizza base sauce - just simmer tomatoes until thick and then season.

About an hour before baking preheat the oven to its highest setting.
Smear tomato sauce around each base - kids love to help with this too, add a handful of good quality grated mozzarella and then add your toppings - whatever YOU like and try to be a little exotic, remember Italians don't see pizza as a cheap meal but as a culinary experience. Ham and pineapple is so NOT cool!

Here are a few more ideas for you:
Rosemary scented potato (precook these) & anchovy
Porcini mushroom and garlic - fry these up before adding
Avo, rocket and Parmesan shavings (add these once the base has cooked)
Artichoke, sun dried tomato and olives - always a winner
Chilli prawns with blobs of sour cream

You must eat your pizzas as soon as they come out of the oven!!

I hope you enjoy this blog as much as I have but now it's time to clean up and dream up new recipes

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Anyone for a Barbecue?/ Braai?

Apologies followers, I have been crazy busy doing birthday cakes for the last two weeks - which I will post later. But in the meantime the weather has cooled somewhat so we have been spending some time outdoors. I know that sounds bizarre but 45 degree heat is not my idea of a good time! I prefer more moderate temperatures of around 28 degrees. It has been 8 months since we had a decent braai - that's a barbecue for my Aussie friends - and since the gas variety just doesn't give that smoky flavour I love, I sent poor Chris out to buy a Weber - the kind that uses charcoal! Then I invited a bunch of friends over to dinner and set about thinking about a menu. I chose some of my favourite ingredients and then worked the magic from there. Rib eye steaks on the bone - lovely thick ones, Chicken, Radishes, Beetroot and I had Plums in the fridge which needed using up.

So the menu ended up as follows:
  • Rib Eye marinated in Lemon Zest - yes I love lemon- heaps of fresh Thyme, a little Garlic, White Cracked Pepper and Peppery Olive Oil - marinated at room temperature for at least an hour or 2
  • Whole Chicken with Butter and Sage Basting
  • Potatoes with Rosemary (just a hint), Fresh Cream and Parmesan
  • Simple Cos and Radish salad with Maldon Salt
  • Roasted Beetroot with Red Onion, Feta and White Balsamic dressing
  • And to finish? Plum Tart.

We had 7 people for dinner so I used 1 large free range chicken and 2 x 500g Rib Eyes on the bone. Do all the prep beforehand and getting things all ready at the same time will be a cinch. The chicken will take 60 minutes to cook on the Weber and the steaks only about 7 minutes.
I made the Plum Tart in the morning and also the beetroot salad. I washed the Cos and spun it dry and put it in a bag in the fridge ready for plating, I even sliced the radish so I could just toss that through at the last minute

Marinated Rib Eye Steak
  • 2 Large Rib Eye Steaks on the Bone
  • 1 Fresh Lemon Zested
  • A Handful of fresh Thyme
  • White Pepper - in a grinder
  • 3 - 4 Garlic cloves crushed
  • A Couple of Glugs of Good Peppery Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Marinate the steaks for at least and hour at room temperature - remember meat cooks more evenly when it is at room temperature. Just before the chicken is due to be done, cook the steaks for 3 minutes on each side directly over the hot coals - with the Weber lid on.

Butter & Sage Basted Chicken

  • 1 Large Free Range Chicken
  • Fresh Sage Leaves - about a handful
  • 3 - 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Fresh Lemon - use the one that you zested for the steaks and remove all the pith
  • Salt
  • Pepper
Clean out the cavity of all the nasty bits - yes you have to get your hands in there but they can make the chicken taste bitter and also remove the small fatty gland on the popes nose which does the same. I like to wash the bird well and then dry thoroughly with kitchen towel. Use the lemon that you zested and remove all the pith and place into the cavity along with some torn up Sage leaves. Make sure the butter is soft and then gently lift the skin away from the flesh working right down to the legs and then massage the butter under the skin and add a couple of the sage leaves. Season the chicken with salt and pepper. Prepare you Weber for indirect cooking and once the coals are ready place the chicken in the centre of the grill, close the lid and leave it until you need to cook the steaks. The smell wafting out will have your guests tummies rumbling........

Rustic Potato Wedges Done with Parmesan, Cream and Rosemary

Pre heat the oven to 200C and Slice the potatoes into wedges as soon as the chicken goes into the oven

  • 9 - 10 Potatoes
  • 1/2 Cup cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Few sprigs of fresh rosemary
Leave the skin on the potatoes and use about 1 potato per person plus a few for good luck, place them in a roasting pan and toss well with the Cream, Parmesan, Rosemary, Salt & Pepper.
Roast for about 40 minutes or until golden, the cream will go all gooey and brown and is seriously delicious.

Roasted Beetroot Salad with Feta, Red Onion and White Balsamic

Prepare this in the morning then it is done and ready for serving. Use about 2 small beetroot per person or 1 large each Beetroot (as much as you need) 1 Small Red Onion 30ml White Wine Vinegar 5 ml Sugar Feta Cheese - some White Balsamic Glaze/Cream about 5ml Cook the beetroot in boiling water until just tender, drain and cool and then peel - it's a bit messy but what the heck? Slice the onion into very thin slices and place in a bowl with the white wine vinegar and sugar and leave to marinate most of the day (in the fridge) Once the beetroot is peeled, quarter them and place in a roasting tray, drizzle with a tiny bit of olive oil and toss well. Roast for about 40 minutes or until the beetroot begin getting crinkly Allow to cool and then Toss with the Balsamic and the drained onion and top with crumbled Feta
Serve in a pretty white bowl

Lastly: Simple Cos Salad with Radish and Maldon Salt.

I just love this - the Cos is wonderfully crispy, and the radish is so pretty and crisp and the best way to eat radish is with salt. It is so easy, simply wash the Cos, spin and store in a bag until ready to use.
Slice the radishes and toss with the Cos and then sprinkle with crushed Maldon and a drizzle of mild extra virgin Olive Oil

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Grilled Chicken & Asparagus with roasted Kumara & Creme Fraiche

So here it is: another really delicious, easy midweek meal, this one is also pretty healthy and this is definitely my favourite way of cooking asparagus, it brings out the sweetness of the asparagus but brings a level of smokiness and interest to it. I have discovered Kumara (orange sweet potato) and just love the gorgeous colour. I used Thyme to season the kumara while roasting it and decided to flavour the crème fraiche with it too. You can get this all done within 40 minutes - the longest cooking time is the kumara so get that going first and while it is roasting you can get the rest of the dish done. I have been reading some of my cook books lately and it occurred to me that none of the recipes really explain how to get a whole meal ready at the same time - this comes with experience so if you are a novice cook, this can be the most daunting part of cooking, so throughout my menus and recipes I tend to try and explain how to get the timing thing going!!

For this meal if you get your oven pre-heated and a pot of water boiling before you do anything else you will be halfway to finishing within 40 minutes

To prepare the Kumara:
Preheat your oven to 220C.
I use 1 large Kumara per person
Peel the kumara or sweet potato - you may notice the sweet potato /kumara tends to turn black quite quickly so place the peeled kumara in some water with a little lemon juice to prevent this discolouration - slice the kumara/sweet potato in half lengthways and then into wedges, toss them in the lemon water and then pat dry on kitchen towel. My newest favourite thing is to cook on some baking parchment so I don't have to wash the roasting tray.
Toss them in a splash of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with fresh thyme and Maldon salt and then pop them into the hot oven and roast 30 - 40 minutes or until soft and golden. I usually turn the kumara only once during roasting about 30 minutes into the cooking time.

Use about 5 - 7 spears of asparagus per person
Once the kumara is safely in the oven and your water is boiling slice about 1cm off the ends of the asparagus and then place them in the boiling water (you are blanching them) and cook for 3 minutes, take them out the water and drain under cold running water
and set them aside - we will grill them just before serving.

Get a griddle pan onto the stove to begin heating up - it needs to be smoking hot. This should take around 5 - 7 minutes. If you don't have a griddle - a pan will do

I usually work on 1 breast per lady and 2 per man, rub them with a little olive oil and season lightly with salt and black pepper - About 20 minutes before the kumara is ready place the chicken breast onto the griddle pan and DO NOT turn them or even try and move them until they are well browned - a good 4 minutes. Turn them over and grill another 4 minutes. They will probably still be a bit pink in the middle so at this point the kumara should have about 10 minutes to go - I then put the breasts into the same tray as the kumara to finish them off and turn the kumara. Now place the asparagus onto the griddle pan and allow to brown all over. Chop a little fresh thyme and add to a tub of crème fraiche - a little squeeze of fresh lemon or lime adds a nice twang.

At this point everything should be ready - You can either plate up individually or place everything in the roasting tray and place it in the centre of the table for everyone to dish up for themselves. The creme fraiche is great for dipping the kumara in!!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Easy Peasy Midweek Meals

I know I said we would explore the East for a while and we will go back there, but with school holidays and the constant need for interesting and exciting meals I have been going back to some of the basics, just changing them up a bit. But, as every mom knows thinking of easy delicious meals all the time - even for a chef - is exhausting so on Friday night the kids had chicken nuggets and chips - I did add vegetables to the mix so as not to feel too guilty - and then I found myself having a bag of crisps and a bowl of sour cream for dinner because I wasn't bothered to cook for myself. And then how bad did I feel? So I have a simple meatball and tomato sauce recipe (I used the leftover tomato sauce for pizzas), fresh fish with a lemon, caper and cream sauce, chicken schnitzels - home made of course, grilled chicken with grilled asparagus and finally home made pizza for Sunday night dinner! Lets start with the meatballs - always a firm favourite and a good way to hide some veggies in the meatballs and particularly in the sauce. It's also a great way to get little hands involved in the process of meal making and I am pretty sure they become a bit more adventurous with trying things if they help to make them, so get a stool ready, take deep breaths because you do need patience and start with the meatballs:

Basil & Spring Onion Meatballs with Home Made Tomato Sauce

Start with a pack of good quality lean beef mince (preferably never frozen but if it has been frozen, defrost thoroughly),
I use old bread to make the breadcrumbs and used about half a cupful. Just whiz up the bread with one of those hand held blenders
1 Egg
2 Spring onions finely chopped
3 - 4 Fresh Basil leaves - finely chopped
White pepper

Mix everything together in a bowl and season with a little salt and pepper- little hands enjoy this job!
Have a bowl of flour nearby and then take spoonfuls of the meat mixture and drop them in the flour just to coat and make rolling the balls easier - again a good job for little hands.
Roll the meatballs until all the mixture is used up - you should end up with about 15 - 20 medium meatballs.
Place these in the fridge to rest while you make the sauce.

Home Made Tomato Sauce

2 Celery sticks
2 Medium carrots
1/2 a small onion
30ml Extra Virgin Olive oil
10ml Tomato paste
100ml White Wine (Don't worry the alcohol cooks away so it is not bad for the kids or just leave it out if you prefer)
1 Tin Chopped Italian Tomatoes

Dice the vegetables as finely as possibly - this is a good way to practice those knife skills
Heat the olive oil in a heavy based pan and add the vegetables and allow them to sweat on a low heat with the lid on - this means they must go soft and translucent without browning, stir every now and then. This process cannot go quickly and requires at least 10 minutes
Remove the lid and turn up the heat and add the tomato paste and stir vigorously for about 30 seconds and then add 100ml white wine and allow it to reduce almost completely - you will have a very thick dark red colour in the pot.
Add the tomatoes and then simmer gently 10 - 15 minutes.
Season with a good pinch of salt ( I don't use black pepper as the kids find it burny but add a dash if you like after blending - blending intensifies pepper so always add pepper after blending)
Then the magic, whiz it well with a stick blender - Veggies hidden!!

Once the sauce starts simmering, bring a large pot of water to the boil to cook your pasta and heat a large pan for frying the meatballs

Fry the meatballs in a little olive oil until well browned all over - I like to finish them in the oven for 5 minutes so they don't burn but cook all the way through.

Serve with Spaghetti..... Everyone will come back for seconds!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

SOY SAUCE - Seasoning of the Orient

I’ve never given much thought to how soy sauce is made, in fact I’ve only ever dipped my sushi in it, stir fried with it, made Thai dips with it or mashed it into my avo which, by the way, is delicious on crispy toast for breakfast. But here I am, standing in the actual room where Kikkoman soy sauce is matured for six months before being bottled. “It’s very similar to making wine,” explains Mr. Yoshiyuki, our host at Kikkoman. He goes on to say that, “there are over 300 pleasantly flavoured compounds that make soy sauce so tasty.” He is clearly passionate about soy sauce, as he describes the unique characteristics that make up the balanced flavour of saltiness, sweetness and “Umami”. “What exactly is Umami?” I ask Mr. Yoshiyuki. “Umami is Japanese word meaning ‘delicious flavour’,” he enthuses. I later find out that it is one of the five tastes we are able to detect on our tongues, and what could best be described as ‘savoury’, ‘meaty’ or ‘brothy’. Mr. Yoshiyuki is in raptures about the versatility of soy sauce as one of the world’s oldest-known seasoning's and I couldn't agree more.

Crispy Duck, Pork Belly and Asian Greens with Soy Sauce

The origin of soy sauce is hotly debated and many say its origin lies in China, where it was first used some 2500 years ago and came into being almost by culinary accident. Food needed preserving, so people often salted their foods and the resulting liquid (gross as that sounds) was kept and used as a seasoning for other bland dishes such as rice and noodles. It was only when a Zen priest from Japan was studying in China and “borrowed” the idea – basing it on a more vegetarian diet – that the recipe changed to include soybeans. The recipe gradually evolved until the 17th century when the golden liquid that we know today as soy sauce emerged. This evolution is thanks to the efforts of Maki Shige, the wife of a warrior of one of Japan's premier warlords, Toyotomi Hideyori. The first commercial soy sauce brewery was opened in the village of Noda in 1916 by Maki Shige, after she survived the siege of Hideyori’s castle and ran away with the “secret”. Mr. Yoshiyuki goes on to explain, in excellent but slightly broken English, that there are two methods for making soy sauce: “There is natural brewing method and there is cheats method,” he says. “We at Kikkoman use only natural process.” It turns out that there are many chemically hydrolyzed soy sauces on the market which can be made in two days yet contain harsh flavours. Mr. Yoshiyuki is quick to point out that Kikkoman soy sauce is the finest money can buy.

Kikkoman soy sauce is naturally brewed, using an age-old technique with five simple ingredients: Water, Crushed Wheat, Soybeans, Salt and a secret enzyme. These five ingredients are mixed together in state-of-the-art mixing tanks and allowed to “ferment” for around three days. The first part of the process, where the soybeans and wheat are treated under strictly controlled conditions, is called Koji production. The Koji is then mixed with water, salt and “secret enzyme” and the resulting solid mash called Moromi. - All a little technical but fascinating. The sauce is moved into enormous tanks to “ferment” or “brew” – a little like wine making. By now, the yeasty aroma wafting from the tanks is making my tummy rumble. It is this aging period that is crucial in determining the quality of Kikkoman soy sauce.

Fried Chicken with Soy Dip

The sauce is now ready for pressing. We all follow Mr. Yoshiyuki into the pressing room where the golden liquid is pressed through a huge “linen press” which resembles a giant pasta machine. I ask Mr. Yoshiyuki what type of fabric this is, but again it is a trade secret. Suffice it to say, the liquid soy sauce is now extracted from the Moromi cake by being squeezed through the cloth – a process that cannot be rushed as it is the natural weight of the mash which causes the liquid to be strained through the cloth. Now it all gets a little technical again as the liquid is filtered and then painstakingly analysed for quality before being bottled.

I am in awe; this has been a fascinating tour. We thank Mr. Yoshiyuki for his graciousness, passion and knowledge that he has been so willing to share with us. Our host, Linda, points out that we should feel especially honoured that Mr. Yoshiyuki has hosted our tour, as he is the CEO!

Fresh Salmon Sashimi - absolutely glorious with a little wasabi mixed into soy sauce for dipping, this was my second favourite dish - after Tom Kha

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Journey of Tom Kha Gai

I think I am going to spend a while exploring the east or more specifically South East Asia for a while and then perhaps move onto India. I was really fortunate to travel to Singapore and Thailand recently and thought I would share some of my pictures and favourite foodie moments and recipes. I adored the vibrancy on the streets of Bangkok, the colourful food markets were a visual treat, and the fresh zingy tastes a true delight, and have really made me love Asian food. So here is the journey of Tom Kha Gai

Do you have a favourite dish that you try at every restaurant? I do: it’s called Tom Kha Gai. It’s not as well known as its cousin Tom Yum – the famous hot & sour Thai soup. In contrast to Tom Yum, it is milder, creamier, and richer. In Tom Yum, the citrus flavours of lemon-grass and lime leaves take the lead, but Tom Kha's earthy flavour comes from Kha or galangal. It is quite simply, dreamy; an exotic ambrosia of coconut milk, lemon-grass, galangal, Thai lime leaves and silky chicken. I am determined to try the dish at each place we visit, starting right here on the banks of the Chao Phrya River in Surat Thani – a tiny fishing village on the west coast of Thailand. To set the scene… We are seated at a very rustic wooden decking affair bordering a wide, muddy, fast-flowing river… Grubby plastic garden furniture, melamine dishes, mucky forks and spoons (they don’t use knives), and a rather grubby looking kitchen in plain view, and fresh fish plopping out of bamboo baskets in anticipation of ending up as our lunch. We’re at one of the best local restaurants and Linda, my experienced travelling companion, tries her best to pick dishes from a menu written in Thai – it might as well be from outer space it’s so alien – with a few very blurry pictures to help. Clearly not many tourists visit here.

Dishes start arriving in a flurry; the kitchen and restaurant staff hovers around our table to see these obviously strange “farang” (the Thai word for foreigner). As soon as the food lands on the table the flies begin their assault. I try my best to remain calm, as it would be rude to offend our hosts. I drink some deliciously refreshing coconut juice straight from the coconut which also helps relieve the burn from spicy dishes. I try some fried chicken with cashew nuts – it is delicious, the fresh lobster dipped in spicy chilli is mouthwatering… only the flies now have us under full siege. I begin waving my spare arm frantically. There is no order here, it is all quite random: soup arrives halfway through the meal, and it is my favourite - Tom Kha Gai! I slurp it down, the unique, earthy flavour of galangal is pungent but balanced by the heady scent and flavour of lemon-grass and the chilli level is just perfect. Next, some raw vegetables are deposited on the table – things I am unfamiliar with like morning glory and Thai celery, but which are refreshing dipped in chilli and vinegar. Marinated chilli fish – baked whole, quite a weird curry paste cake, which is fiery hot, and the quite delicious spicy green papaya salad. If you’ve never experienced this dish, it is a revelation in flavour and texture. Thin crispy strips of green papaya tossed with spicy chilli, hints of peanut, and the famous pungent fish sauce (though too much can ruin the dish) and chopped fresh coriander. – Think I will post a recipe for this soon.

But, I digress, as my mission is to compare notes on Tom Kha Gai. Tom Kha literally means, “Boiled galangal” and Gai, translates as “chicken”. You can also make Tom Kha Goong (prawns) or a vegetarian option, Tom Kha Hed with mushrooms. I soon discovered that even though the ingredients are pretty much the same wherever you go, there is always a subtle or even a distinct difference, yet the essence remains the same.

Tonight we are at a far more westernized restaurant, this time in the pulsating city of Bangkok, but, oddly enough, still on the banks of the same river. In the central region of Thailand, the Chao Phraya River is regarded as the bloodline of the Thai people and even today, the river remains the most important waterway in central Thailand. This is evident from the steady flow of little tugboats hauling huge loads of sand, cement and other building supplies up and down the river. Chao Phraya never sleeps as it carries with it the culture and history of Thailand. The hygiene standards tonight are a definite improvement, but there is a very bad karaoke rendition blaring in the background. The fare is similar, and many different dishes are brought to the table, but this time the Tom Kha Gai is brought in a brazier and kept warm by a small candle burning underneath and we are free to dish our own. This one has a little chilli oil floating on top and is more fiery than our first one, but we all dig in for seconds and we especially enjoy the addition of shitake mushrooms. The lemon-grass and lime leaf in this version is strong and aromatic and it seems to be a little creamier than the first. We also have crispy prawn spring rolls with a sweet chilli dipping sauce… Yum!

Today we are being hosted by one of our suppliers and are taken to one of his favourite restaurants. We start the meal with the customary coconut juice. He takes the liberty of ordering for us so we are not sure what to expect. The décor is not glam – plastic pink tablecloths, the ambience of a large food hall, and the standard plastic plate with spoon and fork – but we do have our own waiter. We all smile politely as an array of colourful dishes starts to arrive. We are told it would be considered very impolite not to taste everything. So here goes: A delicious omelette with fresh greens, a plate of Asian greens which is crunchy and perfectly seasoned with oyster sauce, a plate of fish cakes (a little spongy for my liking but nicely seasoned with fresh coriander) and then, horror of horrors, a fresh oyster omelette. The oysters look like beady little eyes, slimy and piled onto a bed of egg and bean sprouts. Linda takes spoonfuls, I take a polite spoonful, push the oyster around my plate tentatively – can you tell I don’t like them? – and then pile on a few things I am loving. While Steven’s eyes pop out from a mouthful of chilli, I surreptitiously slip the oyster into a serviette. And then right on time the soup arrives. Creamy with large slices of galangal and the cutest little mushrooms you ever saw. There are whole dried red chillies floating in this one and generous slices of lemon-grass, a lime leaf or two, and a refreshing fresh tang of lime juice. Perfection. This is the one I am going to try and replicate when I get back home. We finish off with juicy pomelo – similar to a giant grapefruit but sweeter and dipped in chilli sugar.

How to make your own –

As I learnt from my travels, there is no one correct way to make this dish. Play with the ingredients each time to develop your own unique and personalized recipe that you can show off to guests with. It’s dead easy – I promise.

You will need:
• 250ml Chicken stock
• 250ml Coconut milk
• ½ stalk Fresh lemon-grass sliced into 3cm lengths. Only use the bottom part, not the green leafy bits, and then use the back of a knife to bruise the lemon-grass – you might need to bash quite hard so watch your fingers!
• Fresh Galangal 6 slices (ginger is not an ideal substitute but is the only one I would recommend)
• 2 Thai lime leaves left whole
• Dried red chillies left whole (depending how brave you are use between one and four. Maybe make your first batch with one so you can get a feel for the heat level)
• 15ml Fish sauce
• 30ml Fresh lime juice
• 5ml Palm sugar
• A handful fresh coriander
• 4 Chicken breasts sliced thinly across the breast
• A handful of straw mushrooms (or regular button mushrooms) sliced

Place the stock into a medium sized pot and bring to the boil. Toss in the bruised lemon-grass, galangal, palm sugar and lime leaves and then allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
Now add the coconut milk, whole dried chillies and fish sauce (too much fish sauce can ruin any dish so if you are nervous, start with half the amount – you can adjust the seasoning at the end) and then bring back to a simmer.
Lastly, slide the chicken into the hot liquid taking care not to plop the chicken in or you will scald yourself. Add the mushrooms now too. As soon as the chicken turns white it is 90% done, simmer 3 minutes and then take out a slice to check. You don’t want the chicken to boil; it must be silky and just cooked through.
Turn off the heat and add a squeeze of fresh lime juice. The reason for adding this at the end is to get a fresh tangy bursting-on-the-tongue effect. If you cook lime juice it becomes too mellow.
Now you can test for seasoning.
There should be a noticeable saltiness from the fish sauce (not fishiness), sweetness from the coconut milk and palm sugar, and nice bit of sourness from the lime with a hint of chilli. You should definitely notice the citrus notes from the lemon-grass and lime leaves and lastly the earthy galangal.
Serve to your guests garnished with a little fresh coriander in each bowl. Ensure you dish up all the lemon-grass and galangal as well. It is acceptable to slurp but you are not expected to chew on the slices of galangal and lemon-grass.

This soup is very decadent when served with prawns rather than chicken, just remember prawns will only take a minute to cook so add them right at the end and simmer for only a minute. They will become tough and leathery if you overcook them.
If the budget is tight, make a combination of chicken, firm white fish and just a few prawns.
For vegetarians use a combination of mushrooms and a few baby tomatoes (don’t forget to substitute vegetable stock for chicken stock).
If you prefer a richer soup, substitute the coconut milk with coconut cream – this makes such a heart-warming winter lunch.
The strength of lemon-grass and lime juice varies, so use your nose and your tongue to judge. When in doubt, use more lemon-grass but less lime juice. Then adjust gradually.
If you cannot get fresh limes, substitute with lime juice (check the usage instructions as sometimes they are quite concentrated). Or use lemon juice instead, and use more of it than prescribed here.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to experiment. Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Sugar & Spice - Easter Brunch

Easter is looming so I have prepared a quick, light, and TASTY Easter Brunch menu which we will share with friends on Saturday. There will be heaps of kids, loads of chocolate and good company so a convivial atmosphere is expected. Oh and don't forget excellent company needs excellent coffee. 5Senses is my favourite coffee - try the AM blend. and best of all you can order on-line (Not sure outside Australia). I am going to make some bunny biscuits for the kids to ice and decorate and perhaps we can do some rice bubble cakes decorated with Easter eggs. Should be lots of FUN

Easter Brunch Menu
  • Prosciutto, Asparagus & Tomato Tart
  • French Toast with Caramelised Banana, Bacon and Maple Syrup
  • Scrambled Eggs with Smoked Salmon
  • Home-made Hot Cross Buns
  • Easter Chocolate Cake

Prosciutto, Asparagus & Tomato Tart

This is so easy and quick and it's super delicious

Heat your oven to 220C while your pastry rests - it is really important to put puff pastry into a very hot oven as this is what causes the pastry to lift or rise.

You will need:

1 Pack all butter puff pastry

A bunch of fresh green asparagus, lightly blanched and sliced in half lengthways

5 Slices Prosciutto OR your favourite cured ham

About a half cupful of Cherry or Rosa tomatoes, halved

1 Cup Mozzarella, grated

1 Egg mixed with 15ml milk (egg wash)


Place the puff pastry on a baking sheet and sprinkle the cheese all over the pastry, leaving a 2cm gap from the edge of the pastry.

Place all the ingredients attractively over the cheese, tearing the ham into bite sized strips

Brush the edge of the pastry with the egg wash

Place the tart in the fridge to rest for 1/2 hour - DON'T FORGET TO TURN ON THE OVEN

Place the tart into the preheated oven and bake 15 minutes at 220 and then turn the heat to 150 and cook another 10 minutes or so until the pastry is golden and well risen and cooked through.

French Toast with Caramelised Bananas, Crispy Bacon & Maple Syrup

I don't think there is anything more comforting or more decadent than this combination. It is definitely my favourite breakfast
EVER. I had this in a little restaurant/ cafe in Notting Hill in London called 202 and this is my attempt to replicate it:

Start with a lovely chunky slices of sour dough bread (their slices were about an inch thick)

1 Banana and 2 smoked bacon rashers per person. (Try to find an organic bacon as I find the commercial varieties full of water and additives and completely flavourless), and finally lashing of Maple syrup. You must use the real thing here - the flavoured syrups simply won't do. I know the real one is expensive but it is so worth the investment I PROMISE and I have a few other recipes up my sleeve where it can be used.
2 Eggs beaten per portion
Butter for frying.

Heat your oven to 100C - to keep the bananas and bacon warm while you fry the toast.
Peel the bananas and slice in half lengthways
Heat a heavy based pan and add a generous dollop of butter and allow it to melt
Place the bananas flat side down into the pan for about 2 minutes or until beautifully golden and then turn them carefully with a spatula and fry the other side - set them aside in the oven.
Grill the bacon until crispy and set aside in the warm oven

Whisk the eggs in a large square flat dish (so you can lay the bread in the egg and turn it over without squashing the sides)

Heat a clean heavy based pan until hot (if it is cold the egg won't brown nicely)
Add a generous knob of butter to the pan and then dip the egg on both sides into the egg (I don't like my French toast soggy so I do this at the last minute) and then place into the hot melted butter and fry. About 2 minutes per side should do the trick.
Place a slice of toast on a gorgeous big whit plate, pile on the bacon and banana and then drizzle with heaps of Maple syrup.

Recipes and Pics to follow!!

As promised here are the pictures and recipes for the rest of the menu, I have to say we had a great day with friends and most importantly the kids had a blast and a complete chocolate overdose so it's chicken nuggets and chips with veggies for dinner!! Watch out for my really easy mid week fish dish.

Ginger & Spice Hot Cross Buns

Hot Cross Buns
500g Flour
5ml Salt
50ml Castor Sugar

15 ml Mixed Spice
5 ml Cinnamon ground 25ml Butter 15ml Instant dry Yeast 200ml Luke warm water 1 Egg
150ml chopped crystallised ginger

Slack Dough for the Crosses
200ml Flour
10ml vegetable oil
100ml milk
5ml Baking Powder
Pinch Salt

Sugar Syrup for Glazing
125ml Sugar 125ml Water

Heat your oven to 220C
Sift the flour, salt, sugar and spices together into a bowl and then stir in the yeast

Rub in the butter

Make a well in the flour and add the egg and lukewarm water - don't add all the water at once, you need a soft pliable dough - not too tough and not too sloppy - rather add a little more if needed.

Mix well until the dough is formed and then knead until smooth and glossy

Place the dough in a clean greased bowl and cover with cling film and leave to rise until doubled in volume - this should take an hour in a normal kitchen
Knock down the dough and add the ginger and form the dough into 12 balls and place on a greased oven tray and allow to prove (about 30 minutes)
Make the slack dough by combining all the ingredients to form a thick but runny paste and just before placing the buns in the oven, pipe the crosses onto the buns.
Bake 12 - 15 minutes or until the buns are golden and cooked through
While the buns are baking make the sugar syrup by boiling the sugar and water together until syrupy
As soon as the buns come out of the oven brush them with the glaze.
Serve them piping hot with butter and freshly brewed coffee. Mmmmm

Easter Cake

For this I made a decadently rich chocolate mud cake and then covered it in chocolate ganache and added Lindt bunnies and balls - trying to make a more modern interpretation of the traditional Easter Simnel cake where the 11 marzipan balls atop the cake represent the 11Disciples - (Judas being omitted)