Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Prawn Cocktails


Okay, I admit it.  I love prawn cocktails.  That's right, daggy, old fashioned seafood-sauce-drenched prawns served in a martini glass.  For a while I have assumed this is something I should be ashamed about. But, this year my friend Ryan gave me a copy of the "Heston Blumenthal at home"cookbook for Christmas and I discovered I am actually incredibly cool.  That's because Heston apparently loves prawn cocktails too!  Page 125, people.  It's official; prawn cocktails are cool again.  So it seemed natural that Heston's prawn cocktails made an appearance at Christmas lunch this year.


In the Australian tradition, seafood plays a prominent role at Christmas lunch.  This is usually because it's stinking hot this time of year.  But I have no such excuses as the weather was a blissful sunny 25 degrees - unseasonably cool!  However, as this was my very first time hosting Christmas at my apartment, I stuck to the time honoured tradition - seafood for entree, roast meats for mains.  Mum brought two platters of buttery Sydney rock oysters and I concocted five martini glasses full of shredded lettuce, cubed avocado, sweet Crystal Bay prawns all doused in seafood sauce.  But not just any sauce - Heston's sauce.


What I love about Heston's recipe is that there's no dry ice, centrifuges or smoked-anything required.  How unexpected for him! He keeps it simple, forgives you for using store-bought mayonnaise (while gently directing you to his home-made mayonnaise recipe) and provides you with a few different options for jazzing up the sauce.  Vanilla beans scraped into your mayo, anyone?

I decided to take his suggestion to stir some finely sliced French tarragon into the mayo, as I have some growing in a pot in my courtyard.  It was delicious, providing just the right touch of aniseed to the sauce.  The real key to this recipe is buying the freshest, sweetest prawns money can buy and slicing/dicing all the ingredients as finely as possible.  When a recipe is as time-honoured as a prawn cocktail, dressing it up is all about the presentation.


Heston's Prawn Cocktail


- 1 kilogram cooked prawns (this is the pre-shelling weight - it will give you approx 500 grams when shelled)
- 1/2 iceberg lettuce, finely sliced
- 1 teaspoon fresh French tarragon, finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely chopped
- 1 avocado
- 1 lemon (juice and zest)
- 100 grams mayonnaise
- 150 grams tomato sauce (ketchup)
- 12 drops Worcestershire sauce
-  salt and pepper to taste

First things first - shell and clean your prawns.  This is an icky job, but you will thank yourself for all this effort when you are able to scoff down your prawns at record speed later on.  Remove the legs of the prawns, then the shell, then pull off the head and, after slicing down the back of the prawn, pull out the brownish coloured vein which runs down the back of the prawn.  When this is done, I suggest you run the prawn under a little water to wash off any mess or grit which might have clung on inside the prawn.  Now, cover the prawns in a bowl with some cling wrap and pop the prawns in the fridge for later.

Next, finely slice your iceberg lettuce.  The finer the better!  Layer a little at the bottom of your glasses.  I only needed about half a small iceberg lettuce for this, but how much you need really depends on the size of the glasses you'll be using.




Now, dice your avocado into small squares, as small as you can manage.  Halve your lemon and squeeze  one half over your avocado squares and then fold the juice through to stop discolouration.  Grate the lemon zest from the whole lemon over the avocado and fold gently through.  Spoon the avocado on top of the lettuce in your martini glasses.




It's time to get saucy, people!  In a medium-sized bowl add your mayonnaise and tomato sauce and mix together.  I used a whisk for this, which helped get rid of the mayo lumps and make the sauce a nice, smooth consistency.  Now, add the 12 drops of Worcestershire sauce, the juice of the remaining half of the lemon and the French tarragon.  I added a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper.  Be sure to taste it and add salt and pepper to your taste.  Heston calls for a pinch of cayenne pepper, but I left this out as I don't particularly like a kick in my prawn cocktail.





Pour the sauce over your prawns and fold until all the prawns are coated in sauce.  Spoon the prawns over the lettuce and avocado in your martini glasses.  Sprinkle the finely diced chives over the top as a garnish and devour!


Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding


Tis the Christmas season and there are parties and barbeques-a-plenty, everyone catching up before they disappear for the holidays and celebrating with friends.  It's also the time of the year that those hosting Christmas dos are looking for that perfect dish - you know, the one you can prepare ahead and heat up, that's no trouble at all, so you can kick back and actually enjoy the party, rather than slaving in a hot kitchen while your friends and family drink the champagne!

This dish is just such a "prepare ahead" dessert.  Make it the morning or evening before, let it return to room temperature and then, just before you want to serve it, pop it in the oven to heat up, slice and serve steaming hot with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream.  You can also serve an awful lot of people by simply doubling the recipe - one panettone will usually make two puddings.  It's delicious and always receives rave reviews, and for some reason a bowl of bread and butter pudding, pipping hot and scented with brandy, just feels like Christmas.

The other great thing about this recipe is that I now finally have a way to use the beautiful panettone bread I have often received as a hostess gift over the silly season.  I am not much of a "fruit toast" lover, so this recipe is perfect.  It has a richness that suits the flavours of a bread and butter pudding (just shy of the butteriness of brioche) and soaks up the custard mix with relish.



Panettone is a genius Italian cross between a cake and a bread, studded with dried fruits and wrapped in a paper base that I just love peeling off.   The traditional Italian panettone was first made in Milan during the Christmas season, and is often served as-is with hot cocoa or liqueur.  It's fabulous and I can't believe it took me so long to realise it - all those wasted panettone loaves tossed out in my past!  Such a waste!! So even if you aren't lucky enough to receive one of these wonderful loaves as a gift, run out and pick one up at your local deli, and get cooking.


Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding


-  1 Italian panettone loaf
-  2 whole eggs and 4 egg yolks (use the left over whites for meringue!)
-  250ml milk (full cream)
-  170ml thickened cream (whipping cream)
-  50gms caster sugar
-  2 measures of brandy (I used the armagnac I brought back from France... extra YUM)
-  pinch of salt
-  1 teaspoon vanilla extract
-  2 tablespoons caster sugar for sprinkling

Preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius and butter an oven-safe baking dish of approximately 8 x 5 inches.  I used a square dish of approximately 7 x 7 inches - you don't have to be super precise.


Cut your panettone into 1 cm (approximately) thick slices.  You will really only need about half the panettone loaf for the recipe, so feel free and toast the leftovers to nibble on later while the dish is baking.


Line the baking dish with overlapping slices of panettone.  This dish will always look a little rustic - it's part of its charm - so don't fuss too much about getting this "perfect".

In a large bowl, beat your eggs and yolks, mix with the butter, cream, sugar and vanilla essence.  Now stir in your pinch of salt and brandy (or armagnac!).  Pour this over the bread slices so they all get a good dousing.



The key to this dish is to let the bread and butter pudding rest at this point for about 15 minutes which allows the bread to soak up the custard mix.  This avoids the pudding from getting too soggy at the bottom when you take it out of the oven.  Go make yourself a cup of tea and try some of the leftover slices of panettone while you wait.

Now, the pudding is well rested, so sprinkle it with sugar and then into the oven it goes for approximately 30-40 minutes.  Keep an eye on it, you want to take it out when it is a lovely golden brown and crispy on top.

 If you are serving now, slice and pop in some bowls, serving with with a scoop of ice-cream and/or a dollop of cream.  If you are serving up later that evening, allow to cool to room temperature, then cover with a clean tea towel until you are ready to reheat it in the oven.

And a Merry Christmas to all!



Friday, November 25, 2011

What's Happening at the Farmers' Market!

Tis the season for cherries at the Farmers' Market this morning - some were served up in pre-weighed bowls, some in massive piles of ruby red orbs and, disturbingly, some handed out by a man dressed in a large cherry suit (I kid you not) and scaring small children with his high-pitched squeals.  Truly frightening.


In other good news, the stonefruit vendor is back with his trays of nectarines and peaches - just follow the crowds to find him, and expect to line up for your tray.


Apart from that, oranges in their net bags are back, there are black buckets of green beans (snow beans and flat beans - this photo has not been retouched, they are just this shade of green!) and piles of lettuce.  Plaited garlic strands are back too, just in time for Christmas.

26 nov

Sadly, my favourite potato man has opened up a store in Orange and is no longer coming down to the market, or so Anne the Egg Lady tells me.  And he promised me Tasmanian pink eyes this season too!  Unfortunately, I think Orange might be a little too far for me to go for a bag of potatoes.  Sob sob.

So with cherries and stonefruit everywhere I look, it's time to put up the Christmas tree!

Farmers markets nov 26

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Buttermilk Choc-Chip Muffins


There are some things you just have to have and, when the craving strikes, you may need to make do with the contents of your pantry or fridge to get them from the oven to the plate as quickly as possible.  As fate would have it, when the hunger for a muffin fresh out the oven and oozing with melted chocolate chips struck, I was the proud owner of a quarter of a carton of buttermilk and a half-finished packet of dark chocolate chips.  Oh, and the small remnants of a packet of shredded coconut.

This is a great way to use up your leftover buttermilk which, if you're anything like me, ends up getting chucked out when I discover that it's out of date in the next fridge purge.  And you can substitute all the "flavouring" ingredients (coconut/cinnamon/choc-chips) with anything you happen to have handy - provided it all weighs 200 grams total.  So be creative and add in some mashed banana, crushed peanuts or grated apple instead.  Don't leave out the buttermilk though - it's the secret ingredient!


These muffins - which turned out so light and moist - are the result of the odds and ends in my pantry (and fridge) and nothing else.  Desperation is the mother of invention after all.  I recommend wolfing them down fresh out of the oven, preferably while still steaming, and they're even better if you have a cup of coffee on hand too.  Leftover muffins should be blitzed for 10 seconds in the microwave before you eat them - you want the chocolate chips melty and delicious when you dive in.

Buttermilk Choc-Chip Muffins

-  220 grams self-raising flour (sifted)
-  3/4 caster sugar (I love raw caster sugar)
-  1/2 cup sunflower oil
-  1 cup buttermilk
-  1 teaspoon vanilla essence
-  1 egg, beaten
-  150 grams chocolate chips
-  50 grams shredded coconut
-  1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Firstly, preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celcius and line your baking tins with muffin liners (I have a large supply of various colours and styles but kept to a simple black liner for this very basic, unpretentious recipe).


Next, in a small bowl or jug combine all the wet ingredients (buttermilk, sunflower oil, beaten egg and vanilla essence) and combine thoroughly.

In a larger bowl, add the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, shredded coconut, cinnamon and chocolate chips).  Make a well in the centre and add your wet ingredients.  Combine quickly by folding and stop as soon as it's properly mixed.  You don't want to over-mix as this will make your muffins chewy and pretty average, to tell you the truth.


Spoon the batter into your lined muffin tins, about two-thirds full.  Don't dollop it any higher than the edge of your liner, as these rise quite a bit.


Sprinkle some reserved shredded coconut and a few choc-chips on top of each muffin, then pop the tins in the oven for 15-20 minutes.  My oven is hotter at the back, so I switched the tins around half way through.


I didn't bother letting all of the muffins cool down on the racks - I love them fresh out of the oven while the choc-chips are still melty.



Monday, November 14, 2011

Green Bean Salad


I have often been told that the recipes I describe as "easy" are anything but.  However, this time, I bring you a recipe that is really, truly super simple.  I promise.  It also has the benefit of being zesty and a crowd pleaser at a BBQ - having tested it out this weekend, I can attest to that!

This recipe is my attempt at recreating the green bean and pistachio oil salad introduced to me at Camont by Kate Hill.  I'm not sure I can top the atmosphere, but this turned out pretty well.  I guess the only trick to the recipe is sourcing the pistacho oil, which you can buy at Essential Ingredient and the Italian Deli at the Fyshwick Markets.  It jazzes up a salad dressing beautifully.



Green Bean and Pistachio Oil Salad

- 800 grams crispy, fresh green beans
- 1/4 cup pinenuts
- 3 tablespoons pistachio oil
- 1/2 lemon
- pinch of sea salt

Select the freshest, crispiest green beans you can find and don't forget to pick up some pistachio oil where you can.  This is the secret ingredient for this recipe.




Chop the ends off the green beans and drop them in a pot of boiling water.  Watch them carefully - you don't want them to go soggy.  This should take around 5-8 minutes.

While the beans are cooking, put your pinenuts in a glass or ceramic bowl and pop in the microwave on high for 1 minute.  You may need a second minute to roast them until they're golden brown but it will depend on the strength of your microwave.  Allow them to cool in the hot bowl, as they will continue to crisp up.

Drain the green beans in a colander.  You don't want them to keep cooking, so run them under cold water.


While the beans are still warm, place them in a large salad bowl and drizzle the pistachio oil over the top.  Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the top and then grate the zest of the lemon over the top.  Finally, sprinkle the pinenuts over the salad and serve immediately.  The lemon and pistachio scents will waft up with the steam and beg you to eat them.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Holiday Memories



The jet lag has finally abated, my work in-box is looking a little more reasonable, the head cold I picked up enroute home is marginally better and the weather is, at long last, warming up and drying out!  I have tidied, slept, worked, jogged and shopped - finally my mind has turned to recording the last few days of our cooking course in Camont.  I know you've all been waiting to hear all about our Coq au Vin, Cassoulet and Confit of Duck since my last post.  And let's not forget the pate, the rillette and the fig tarts, the green bean and lemon salad, and everything that is meltingly delicious about a white bean and caramelised leek salad.



Thank goodness Kate provided us with some lighter, summery options to tide us over until cassoulet weather arrives again.  Lovely bean salads will be featuring at BBQs all summer, if I am in attendance.  But in the meantime, the sun is shining through the pinoaks outside my apartment (and they have leaves!).

The memories of Camont are taking on the golden glow of past holidays, so it's best to get them down for you all before they dim into the haziness of warm, wine-filled sunny Gascon afternoons around Kate's table at Camont.



One of the most incredible things about the trip were the farmers' markets we visited.  It seems that there was always a village somewhere with a market going on and most of our mornings featured a trip to another beautiful town to pick up fresh produce for the day's cooking.  From tiny strawberries so sweet I'll never look at a store-bought strawberry again, to every type of cheese you could possibly imagine and a range of charcuterie that boggled the mind.  My need to photograph their produce seemed to be a source of endless amusement to friendly store-owners and producers wherever we went.


One wonderful afternoon we picked the last luscious figs from the trees in Kate's backyard, some black grapes from the vines above her terrace and whipped up a beautiful rustic tart. The pastry was very simple - flour, butter, almond meal - rolled out and covered with goat's cheese mixed with egg yolk, lemon rind and a dash of armagnac (no goat's cheese for me, given my allergy to the stuff, just a layer of golden quince jam), all tucked in at the sides and baked until bubbling with sweetness. Easy peasy and so delicious.

Tarte aux figs

Tarte aux figs

Tarte aux figs




Take me back to Camont, Kate! This sure beats my work-night dinner...