Food Everest – Haggis part 1

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For a long time this particular dish favoured by the Scots has stood as a culinary Everest to me. It hovers on the periphery of my mind, like a little devil on the shoulder whispering in my ear: “Make Me, I’m delicious”. Given that we are in the depth of winter I think it may well be time to attempt my culinary Everest. Ever since my move to the Adelaide Hills (the reason, apart from study commitments, that I have been silent), I have been on the lookout for a partner in crime, in the form of an understanding butcher. Believe it or not, not every butcher is willing to order in a pair of sheep’s lungs with the windpipe still attached. Well, I have found one who seems as excited at the prospect of haggis making as I am so that’s half the equation.

Problem is, as the recipe can’t really be halved or quartered, I need to wait until we can have some adventurous diners around so I can make it up. Watch this space, more to come…..

 

 

Recipe experiment: Prosciutto wrapped chicken stuffed with fetta & chorizo

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I threw this recipe together  when in Penola visiting mum & dad. Boning the chicken is the hardest part (but fun!) and the rest is dead easy :-) This was enjoyed by all eating it .. a good winter dish! Forgive me if the proportions aren’t exact but I didn’t measure as I made it up as I went along.

Ok just a quick extra note; I am re-posting this from my old, un-used blog which I kinda let slide. So I am technically plagiarising myself, which is ok. I just forgot about this recipe until recently and thought I’d share!

Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken Roll Stuffed with Chorizo and Fetta

  • 1 X whole chicken (make sure it’s free range!), size depends on how many you’re feeding
  • 1 X Chorizo Sausage, chopped into small pieces
  • A decent handful of crumbled Danish fetta (normally I try to buy local but Danish fetta spreads better over the chicken)
  • 2 X chopped shallots
  • 3 X cloves garlic, crushed & chopped
  • Approx 6 slices Prosciutto
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees celcius.
First bone your chicken, if you don’t know how to do this, it takes a bit of explaning and requires visual aids so you may want to Google it. Try the Gourmet Traveller website. Don’t remove the skin as this helps keep the chicken moist when roasting.
Heat olive oil in pan over moderate to high heat and cook your garlic and shallots for a couple of minutes until shallots start to soften, add chorizo and fry for about 1 more minute. Allow to cool slightly.
Spread your de-boned chicken over a clean chopping board and nearby, lay out the prosciutto slices so they overlap each other slightly. Take the chorizo mix and spread evenly over the inside of the chicken. Crumble the fetta over the top of the chorizo.
Starting at the end closest to you, roll the chicken tightly and then carefully transfer onto the prosciutto slices you have laid down. You might need a second person to slide 3-4 pieces of kitchen string under the roast while you lift it up slightly so as to not let the filling fall out. Tie the string at equal distances along the length of the roast and then place in a pan on a roasting rack.
Roast in oven, this again will depend on the size of your chicken but I found mine took about 1.5 hours.
Slice thickly and serve, you will find that the prosciutto sticks to the skin of the chicken and will hold it’s shape well. i like to serve it with some green veg as it’s very rich!
Yum!

Soapbox Baker

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Don’t hate me because I am full of butter!

Let me preface this by stating: This is NOT directed at those who have a genuine allergy of any ingredient or those who choose to eat a certain way. It is a statement on how I do things in my kitchen.

There is so much emphasis today on modifying recipes to make them ‘diet friendly’. This may take on many forms, whether it means removing the butter, using low fat or non-dairy milk instead of the real thing, nut free, sugar free, gluten free, wheat free, low salt, low calorie, egg free, vegan…. well, you get the idea. It’s a baking minefield!

By all means, you can eat what ever you wish, don’t let me stop you. But please, please don’t be offended if I have nothing to offer you when you ask if I sell vegan cupcakes or if those friands are nut fee. In the case of true anaphylactics or sufferers of other conditions, I would rather lose you as a customer than kill you or make you very ill.

I prepare all of my food in an area that regularly has contact with nuts and other allergens, I just will not take the risk! Most people are very understanding but there is an  (admittedly tiny) element of people who think that the whole world needs to change for them and their individual requirements. I’m afraid these types just need to understand that not everything is going to be suitable for them. It’s like shopping in a big and tall men’s store when you’re a size 6 woman and complaining that everything is too big!

There are many, many bakers doing great things out there with modified recipes for the wide and varied dietary needs we see these days; that is their point of difference and it fills a need for society. My point of difference is using real butter, full fat everything, making my wheat and butter filled pastries from scatch and using the highest quality, local ingredients.

I don’t apologise for the fact that my pastries contain fat, sugar, flour and all of the other things that have been branded as evil by society. They taste amazing and what is the point in life if we can indulge every now and then?

So the moral of my story? Everything in moderation, I eat all of the things I make, but I eat them in small amounts and I exercise to keep the pastry kilos at bay. You only get one shot at life and you wont lie on your deathbed wishing you didn’t eat that Croissant, you just need to stop at one!

My Food Nemesis…

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For me, making puff pastry from scratch is just about one of the easiest things I do in the kitchen. Building a croquembouche is simple and straightforward and one of my favourite things to make. Croissant  and Danish dough can give me trouble sometimes but as long as you follow the laws of pastry, they aren’t that hard. A delicious, multi-layer Opera Gateaux? Easy Peasy! Paris Brest? Could do it with my eyes shut!

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Danish Pastry – fun and easy!

That might have come across as a boast, well now for confession time; I can’t make scones!! I know, I know…. one of the easiest things in the world to throw together in 10 minutes and yet when I try to make them I end up with tough little rocks rather than the lovely, fluffy and light scones that I aim for. For some reason this is my Achilles heel – and it is quite embarrassing to admit to.

I am by no means the world’s greatest cook, but I do know that making some of my aforementioned pastry items would be considered nigh on impossible (sorry, improbable) by most. Other things that I have an ongoing issue with include:

  • Macarons – I can make them, but I find that they never quite measure up to my standards. Oh sure, they taste fine but the look is never 100% perfect. Pictured are some I made recently – Salted Butter Popcorn flavour – as you can see they are far too thick but they did taste pretty great!
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A bit ugly, but worth it for the salted popcorn buttercream!

  • A simple chocolate cake recipe that never fails – I have yet to find my ‘holy grail’ – a chocolate cake recipe that is dense, delicious and cooks evenly. Mostly I have variations on the basic ingredients that work for different types of cakes but what I really want is a great ‘all-rounder’

So there you have it! I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has a ‘Food Nemesis’ whose perfect execution always seems to elude them.

A new public enemy – the rise of the ‘just add water’ Macaron.

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As I flicked through an industry publication for Bakers and Pastry Cooks I came across something truly disturbing. keep in mind that this magazine is read by Australian Patissiers and other people who would claim to be professionals in their fields. The source of my horror was a ‘Just Add Water’ Macaron Mix. I have felt the bitter sting of disappointment in the reality of large scale commercial cookery before, such UHT eggs, (have you ever smelt them? They are revolting!) and all sorts of other ‘just add water’ mixes but somehow this just seems that step worse for me.

The Macaron, when made with care by a talented and creative Pastry Chef is a thing of beauty. Adriano Zumbo comes to mind, his range of flavours boggle the mind!

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Zumbo – a true patisserie visionary

 

This ‘just add water’ abomonation reduces a thing of indulgence and luxury to just another commodity to be mass produced and sold to unsuspecting consumers! And how many would know the difference I wonder? All most people would notice is the price difference and make a beeline for the cheaper, inferior product; it’s easy to keep your prices low when you reduce your technique to ‘just add water’.

Are Bakers and Pastry Chefs so obsolete that we don’t need them to make anything from scratch anymore? I wouldn’t go as far to say that we are losing essential skills but taking current trends and turning them into something that can be rattled off in a production line just makes me sad. Thank goodness there are still people out there like Zumbo doing things the time-consuming but correct way and innovating with fantastic new ideas that can’t be mass produced!

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Is this what we really want all of our French Pastry to come from? I sure hope not!

Rant for the day over!

Pastry; it’s easier than you think!

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Croissants can be tricky at first but home made beats the hell out of those store bought ones that can often resemble bread dough more than anything!

So many times  I have  people comment to me that  they ‘could never’ make some of the pastries that I produce on a regular basis. I have to disagree. Certainly, there are some tricky techniques (puff pastry can be nightmarishly difficult to master), most of the time I find that any recipe can be conquered with patience, persistence and a basic understanding of how ingredients work.

Some of my top tips for fantastic pastry:

Observe proper resting times – if the recipe says ‘Rest in fridge for 1 hour’, then you can ignore this at your peril! Resting allows the gluten in pastry to relax. I tried to ‘cheat’ and cut down on the resting times with a simple short pastry once and I shouldn’t have been surprised when the pastry shrunk severely when I tried to bake it!

  • Keep it cool – The pastry that is.  I make my pastry (puff, Danish, croissant, short etc.) with butter only (no cheap margarine substitutes!), this is what makes pastry taste so irresistible but of course butter does have that unfortunate habit of melting! Keep your pastry cool as you work with it but putting it back in the fridge if it’s getting too warm to work with. Trust me; I have ruined more than one batch of puff pastry by ignoring this key point. If in doubt, chill it down.
  • Gluten – develop it or don’t – Some pastries (I.e. shortcrust and Danish dough) should not be allowed to have over-developed gluten (caused by over-kneading) so bring the dough together with as little handling as possible.  Others, such as puff pastry, require well developed gluten which I find near impossible without the help of my trusty Kenwood. Speaking of which…
  • Stretch test??? – Nothing to do with Yoga here, if you have ever read a baking book and wondered what a ‘stretch test’, ‘window test’ or ‘gluten test’ is – this is basically where you take a piece of your (hopefully well developed) dough and work it between your thumbs and fingers to create a ‘window’ of sorts. If your pastry tears easily, this means your gluten is under-developed. If however you can stretch it a long way – enough to create an opaque ‘window’ – it’s good to go!

Obviously I could go on for many, many pages with more tips (plenty of books have been written on the topic)  but I have found that these 4 tips have been the ones that are non-negotiable when making the perfect pastry dough. Happy baking!

Signs that you are a food tragic

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You are far more likely to have sourdough starter under your fingernails than to have nail polish on top of them

You’d rather buy a cookbook than shoes/xBox/whatever gender stereotyped gadget or must-have you are supposed to covet

You have received cookware that would seem boring to most as a gift and nearly gone giddy with excitement whilst on-lookers who don’t ‘get it’ just see a cast iron pot/thermomix etc.. (I WISH I had a Thermomix!!). You, however, understand the significance of such items..

Whilst your friends drool over rock stars and actors, you have a lust for super-chefs like Heston Blumenthal – causing an unconventional weakness for men with bald heads and glasses

Admit it, he's sexy!!

You believe that offal should be on every restaurant menu

So long as it was treated humanely in life or not endangered, you’ll eat it!

Food Hell – The 2nd Circle – lust

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It’s been a while since I passed on my vision of food hell and all that it entails. Since we are working with the Dante-esqe ‘circle’ model, that now means we are up to the 2nd circle of hell. That is, of course, the fun one: Lust.

Here, the poor souls who allowed lust to take hold of their will are blown about in a violent storm for all enternity without any respite – pretty harsh punishment just for being horny. Helen & Paris are in this circle, and if Hollywood is to be believed; Paris was just getting her away from a dick of a husband who was WAY too old for her – of course quite a few more people died because of the resulting war so I guess this is their punishment. Personally I am a fan of all the resulting ‘Trojan Horse’ metaphors so it’s not all bad.

Anyway, these are the ones tormented for their carnal urges get the better of their common sense. And what in the food world allows a lust for something to overcome their reason? Easy:

Shark Fin

Here’s what I think must be the thought process of a person who enjoys this ‘delicacy’:

“I love this food so much that my right and desire to eat it overrides the fact that the poor bloody shark is hoisted from the water, fins lopped off, then thrown back in the water, still alive, to die a slow and painful death”

At least have the decency to use the whole animal or dispatch it humanely!

This is what happens so that some rich person can have their fancy shark fin soup. These sharks would have been thrown back into the water still alive.

Non-ethical Foie Gras

Now that you can buy Fatty duck liver that comes from the natural gorging process of geese, rather than the forcing of tubes down their necks, is there really (or was there ever) an excuse to go for the cruel version?

This is one of the less confronting pictures I found. If you are an animal lover as I am, seeing some of the pictures I saw of these poor birds suffering so someone can pay WAY too much for a piece of fatty liver can reduce you to tears :-(

These foods which exist only to satisfy the desires of those who have no concern for the animal that suffered extreme and prolonged pain so that they could end up on some rich person’s plate have no place anywhere.

Food Mythology

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How fun to ponder the various food myths that have been with the human species ever since we were able to paint on cave walls. Think about it; one of the most famous examples (at least in Western society) is that of Adam & Eve eating the apple – quite why eating a healthy and delicious fruit was considered so sinful escapes me, but then I would never condemn the eating of any type of food so that’s why it makes no sense to me. Don’t even get me started on the wierd custom of eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus…. vampires or cannibals, I can’t decide what this points to.

Though it’s not only the Christians who had these stories; as one ancient story goes, the Mesopotamian goddess Inana gets another God (Enki) drunk on beer in order to steal his secrets – I guess wherever there is drunkeness there is capacity to take advantage of the situation. Food offerings to various Gods throughout history are par for the course. Interestingly, if you were flat broke and couldn’t afford to buy an animal to sacrifice to the Gods, you could squeeze by by baking a cake shaped like an ox, a cow, or a sheep or whatever the gods had a taste for. Convenient! Since I’m not too fond of killing an animal just to please some dude in the sky it’s good to know those baking skills could save my immortal soul if need be. For the record; Gourmando is against sacrificing animals unless those animals were intended for eating in the first place.

Foodie teachings from a food tragic

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Foodie Teachings

#1 Teaching:

Be generous with your food and wine.

Even if you are not the greatest cook and don’t know your Cab Sav from your Sav Blanc, you can still uphold the principle of generosity at the dinner table. Cook for your friends, associates, loved ones and even people you are not so fond of. It is the most wonderful way to bond and connect with others. If you can afford it, go ahead and buy the fancy ingredients and get a bit creative but you can still make a sumptuous meal with fresh, cheap/seasonal (these go hand in hand). Just don’t be miserly with your guests – this could land you in one of the circles of Food Hell (more on that later). Being a goof Host/Hostess is one of life’s great joys.

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