Sunday, October 25, 2009

Sunday Egg & Chips

Last night was the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra Gala Ball. The food was good. Cured Bothwell lamb loin, Woody Island oysters, Huon mushrooms, Macquarie Harbour ocean trout and NW Tasmanian grain fed beef with local asparagus. The dessert - native Blue Gum honey panna cotta and Cygnet Granny Smith apple sorbet. Tonight we felt like something simple. Any wonder! We settled on what was in the fridge because neither Mary nor I felt like going shopping. Egg and chips it was!

It was a big night out at Wrest Point. The guests of honour, Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett and his wife Larissa, and the Deputy Premier Lara Giddings and the Minister for the Arts Michelle O'Bryne graced the dance floor as the TSO played the most sublime waltz music.

It wasn't a late night nor did we drink much of the Praxis reisling and pinot noir underwritten by Ball sponsor Moorilla, but tonight we felt like something quick and easy.

My take on egg and chips revolved around some beautiful new season's pink eyes in the pantry and some good farm eggs and some local goat's fetta in the fridge. Add a few vine ripened cherry tomatoes, a crust of Gruyere and a sprig of coriander and you've got fast food fit for a Sunday night.

I have been cooking pinkeye potatoes as French fries for years. Standard fare at Mum and Dad's by the sea was a fish fry of crumbed abalone served with pinkeye chips just out of the garden, cut into rounds and flash fried in peanut oil.

Pinkeyes, like Dutch Creams cook easily without par cooking and have a beautiful flavour and texture. These days I still cook them in peanut oil or rice bran oil or a peanut and soya bean oil blend. They cook nicely in a large Scanpan wok, lifted out with a spider and drained and salted.

For the eggs I used two medium sized souffle dishes and put four cherry tomatoes in the bottom, then four cubes of Meredith's goat's fetta and a couple of leaves of coriander. I then broke two eggs into each ramekin and topped with grated Gruyere and a little black pepper. You could sprinkle sumac over if you have it.

The eggs bake in a 200 C oven in the time it takes the oil to come up to temperature and the chips to cook - about 15 to 20 minutes.

The result is very pleasing. The coriander and the tomato set each other off and the goats cheese marries with the eggs and bulks the dish up.

The Gruyere gives the baked eggs a little cheesy sharpness and I like to add to that with lashings of green Tabasco. It is not hot like it's traditional relative the red Tabasco and eggs and chips can take a good splash without offending even the most sensitive palate.

So next time you have had a big Saturday night dinner give 'em a try. Use your fingers - dunk the chips in the cheesy egg and you'll be in heaven!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Rhubarb & King Alfred

Some folks are scared of rhubarb. Silly really. It is the easiest thing in the garden to cook. This week I made a rhubarb and cranberry pie. It took 5 minutes from the vegie patch to the oven. Dinkum! King Alfred? I'll explain.

We have had rhubarb growing in the garden for years but it never looked right to eat. It was a dodgy green colour with a few red stalks, some green and some speckled in between. Then someone told us that it was just the variety, that it always looked like that and was fine to eat anytime.

Even so, many home cooks tend to think that rhubarb is tricky to cook. It isn't, it's the easiest thing in the world and it stews in its own juice as the saying goes. Just add sugar and off you go.

Anyway on the Show Day holiday this week I felt the urge for a rhubarb pie. Mary was in the vegie patch so I shouted out the kitchen window and she brought me a couple of handfuls of stalks down and passed them through to me.

In 5 minutes, quite literally, I thawed two sheets of shortcrust pastry, chopped 500g of the rhubarb in a bowl and mixed it with 100g of brown sugar and a small handful of dried cranberries. I splashed a little framboise eau de vie over it but that's quite unnecessary really.

I buttered the pie dish, trimmed one sheet of pastry into the bottom and tipped the rhubarb mix in (all of it), and trimmed the lid on. I cut a vent in and brushed the top with milk, sprinkled it with a tablespoon of caster sugar and put in a 200C oven. 5 minutes flat - no water, no syrup, no eggs - nothing but rhubarb, sugar and cranberries.

Now, this is where King Alfred and his burnt cakes come in. I like to get a good brown on my pastry and so cooked the pie for about 25 minutes but when brushing with milk and crimping the pastry edge you create a burn trap for the milk. I don't care but if you do then just press seal the pastry lid and don't use a fork on it.

The shortcrust pastry cooks up a treat with the caster sugar and gives a good crisp crunchy sweet result. Mum's old Pyrex pie dish gives a good crusty base too. If you like you can brush the base with egg white to seal it but the rhubarb melts down and gives a juicy wet filling which I don't mind seeping in to the bottom a bit.

Serve with a big dollop of creme fraiche which cuts the sweet tartness of the pie and wash it down with a glass of muscat de beaumes de venice.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


No doubt, on many occasions, you have seen in the freezer in the Chinese emporium packets of dumpling skins or jiaozi wrappers & you have moved on to the soy sauce - thinking they would require a technique acquired only by long years of practice. Wrong!

Chinese dumplings or jiaozi are the easiest cheffy thing you will ever do and a foolproof way to put a restaurant plate on your home table.

Here's how to do it.

Take the wrappers out of the freeze an hour before you wish to make the jiaozi and let them thaw in the packet. Meanwhile take 400g of scallops and seperate them from their roes and dice them into really small pieces. Finely chop a long red chilli and a half bunch of coriander and mix them together and stir the scallops through.

Take a dumpling wrapper and place a scant teaspoon full of the mixture in the centre. Wet your finger in a cup of water and run it around the outside 1/2cm of the wrapper wetting it and press the circle into a half moon.

That's it. No need for fancy tucking or crimping. No dextrous fingerwork required. The wet edges of the surprisingly dry and floury wrappers stick together very easily and very conclusively.

Do about 8 per person and stack them (as pictured) on to a lightly floured board as you go just to stop any wet edges sticking.

Meanwhile saute half an onion and a couple of cloves of chopped garlic in a little olive oil in a small saucepan and add the scallop roes, crushing them up with a spoon. Then add 60ml of Pernod and reduce slightly, cooking off the alcohol, before adding 150ml of thickened cream and bring to the boil then back it off.

Simmer the sauce gently and stir occasionally and then blend it with an in pot blender or push it through a chinoise with a wooden spoon (or pass it through a mouli), and then return it to a clean pan and keep it warm on a low heat.

Bring a largish pan of water to the boil just as if cooking spaghetti and then back it off to a simmer. Put the dumplings in 6 at a time and when they come to the surface move them around for a minute and lift them out with a spider.

That's it. Keep them warm in a 100C oven while you do the others and then serve the jiaozi on warm plates drizzled with the scallop roe sauce. Delicious and so delicate. The scallop is just cooked through and translucent and the coriander and chilli a perfect blend of flavours. The heady fragrance of the Pernod and scallop roe sauce is a balancing influence. 美味的

So what's keeping you?

Walking on the Wild Side

Baking on a Saturday is relaxing. Oh yeah? Try cooking this apple tart from Moulin de Mougins or these Portuguese custard tarts from Antiga Confeitaria de Belem at 300C in a domestic oven and you are walking on the wild side.

I woke up this morning, after a theatrical week, feeling like a little play in the kitchen. I was not intent on drama, just a little light hearted entertainment. For a curtain raiser I thought Portugese custard tarts and for the main act an apple tart to follow the scallop jiaozi with roe and Pernod sauce Mary demanded for dinner tonight. Well, as they say in the song, that was my first mistake.

The scrummy burnt pastry apple and Calvados tart and the beautiful black tinged custard tarts require about 300C to cook quickly and deeply dark. In the case of the tarts it is because the layered puff pastry takes about 20 minutes to cook normally and yet the custard filling will curdle after about 5. The secret therefore is flash cooking. The Moulin de Mougins apple tart on the other hand needs high heat to melt the sugar and the butter and caramelize the raw apples.

About the only way you can get 300C in a domestic kitchen oven is to crank it up to 250C or whatever your highest heat is and then bake on the very top shelf without the fan in order to get the hotspot you need.

There are other problems associated with the Portuguese pasteis de nata. When you get your oven up that high modern patty pans won't do because the non stick coating burns off at about 230C - 240C.

You really need Mums old pre non stick models if you are going to give these babies a whirl. I am fortunate to have a set of cast iron drop scone moulds which are perfect for an oven that is ticking like the cooling engine of a V12 Jag.

With the apple tart you can give the apples a blast with the fan grill for 3 - 4 minutes at about 200C if the pastry is going too dark and the apples are not cooking and going soft and dark at the same rate. You can give the tarts a spot of grill too if you want a bit more black on top but only for half a minute or so as the custard will granulate.

Now, as to basic method. The tarts require puff pastry and a trick I picked up from an Age article written some years ago by Duncan Markham is very effective. What you do is take a sheet of thawed puff pastry and fold it in thirds. Then press the edges down with a rolling pin and roll it out to lengthen the strip just slightly. Then roll the pastry strip up lengthways, tightly like a Swiss roll and cover with cling wrap and refrigerate for half an hour. Then cut the pastry roll in 1 cm discs and roll each one out slightly to the size needed to line your patty pan moulds. Your pastry will have a lovely layered effect.

For the custard filling take 22g of plain flour and 160g of sugar and sift into a bowl. Whisk 3 egg yolks and 1 whole egg in a jug and heat 300ml of milk in a saucepan with a couple of strips of lemon rind.

Bring the milk to the boil and remove the rind. Mix half the milk into the bowl of sugar and flour and mix thoroughly and then pour back into the balance of the milk in the saucepan. Then put a few few spoonfuls of the flour sugar and milk mix into the eggs and combine. The egg mix then goes back into the saucepan and the whole lot stirred over a low heat for a minute or so.

When you roll out your pastry and line your tart moulds it helps to cover and put the lot back in the fridge until you have made the custard filling and let it cool.

I then transfer the custard from the saucepan to a good pouring jug and take the pastry moulds out of the fridge and fill each case to about 1/2 a centimetre from the top.

Then the scary part starts. The oven is smoking, the baking tray is starting to warp and you inevitably burn your hands as you slide the tarts into the confined space of the top shelf, pushing them right to the back. They will take 6 to 10 minutes. Check them at 6. If they are golden brown and the custard ballooning and going black in spots then that will do. If you want a bit more black pop them under a grill. If the are pale then give them another 2 to 4 minutes in the oven.

Take 'em out, sprinkle them with icing sugar and cinnamon if desired and then try to wait long enough not to burn your mouth before devouring them in a single sitting with black tea or an expresso.

The apple tart is a cinch by comparison. Take a single sheet of puff pastry, cut into a circle and top with cored sliced apple in a Tower of Pisa shape. Then sprinkle with Calvados and smother in brown sugar and large dollops of good butter. Bake at maximum heat for 10 minutes and then turn down to 200C and cook for a further 20. After that cook with the grill element on for 2 minutes at a time while you lie on the floor in front of the oven door watching for the critical moment for as long as your nerve will hold.

Take out of the oven and sprinkle with vanilla icing sugar while still hot and serve with clotted cream. Forget the ice cream. After expending that much nervous energy you can afford to use the cream in large quantities!

Relaxing?... Oh yeah!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Umami - How I love Ya

Can there be anything like the mouth watering taste of new season's asparagus in spring or ripe tomatoes in the height summer? Is there a mouth fill quite as distinctive as nori or dried wakame on your sushi rice? Ever wondered why? It's umami.

It was traditionally understood that our tongues could discern only four tastes - sweet and sour and bitter and salty. These were known as "primary" tastes, which, like primary colours, could not be replicated by mixing together any of the other primary tastes. But in 1908 a Japanese researcher, Kikunae Ikeda, working on isolating the flavor in seaweed broth, discovered a fifth primary taste.

This new taste was dubbed umami, from the Japanese word for "tasty" or "brothy" or perhaps "delicious" or "yummy".

But what was it ? In the laboratory of the Tokyo Imperial University the ingredient causing the taste was identified as an amino acid known as glutamic acid.

In 1913 another Japanese scientist discovered that a further substance was responsible for the yumminess of bonito flakes and in 1960 yet another substance was isolated in dried mushrooms. These latter two ingredients were, respectively, nucleotides known as inosinate and guanylate. The three chemicals are collectively known as umami.

Umami coats the tongue and is detected by particular taste receptors which in turn gives rise to secretion of neurotransmitters which convey taste signals to the brain.

It is thought that umami flavour is most potent when accompanied by aroma and the appearance of food. This fits with early research in the USA which found that umami compounds when tasted alone were unpalatable yet when added to food improved its taste.

So is it any wonder that we drool over ripe red fragrant tomatoes or beautiful green asparagus or pick up on the yumminess of aroma rich seaweed or bonito stock, truffles or mushrooms?

Umami taste is present in seafood, meat, vegetables and other foods such as parmesan cheese and green tea. Brillat Savarin was pretty close when he characterised osmazome - the yumminess in veal stock typifies the flavour common to savoury substances such as meat, cheese and mushrooms.

There are high quantities of umami elements in seafood such as sea weed, bonito, mackerel, tuna, prawns, squid , oysters and shellfish and in vegetables such as potatoes and carrots and soy beans.

Heston Blumenthal carried out some experiments and in conjunction with scientists at the faculty of Reading University in the UK wrote an academic paper on umami in tomatoes. The result of the research showed that the umami substance in tomatoes is clearly more abundant in the inner part so that it s important to include the pulp and seeds in soups and sauces.

The most recent paper I could find on umami was published on July 1 this year in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

It is clear from this study that many questions remain unanswered, chief amongst them being the reason for the unpalatability of pure umami. While several specific receptors that mediate umami taste have been recently identified research on the subject is expected to continue into the next century.

In the meantime enjoy your seaweed safe in the knowledge that all you are doing is exciting sensory fibres that convey taste signals to neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex of the brain.

God, don't let them start on sex!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sherri's Boxing Ring & Mary's Healthy Ling

In a month when the Tasmanian Deputy Premier Lara Giddings is abstaining from alcohol for charity, fitness guru Sherri Ring and my wife Mary have taken charge of my health and fitness. This week, after the boxing Ring came Mary's ling.

It is somewhat less than well known that before I involuntarily came to resemble "Cravat -A- Licious" I was, for some time, a serious amateur athlete. As the TV ad goes; "You know how it is - you settle down and let yourself go a bit ... I'm not worried..."

After, nominally, giving up smoking in the mid 1980's I took up running and swimming and, being obsessive compulsive, that soon led to open water swims and racing bikes and pretty soon I was getting up early and competing in short course triathlons.

Well, before you could say Matt Preston, I was running half marathons, then marathons and then ultra marathons and long course triathlons. Half ironmans, Ross to Richmond and Hobart to Cygnet runs, Bruny Island north to south, the Overland Track from Waldheim Chalet to Lake St Clair in 14 hours, Three Peaks and, and , and.

Even during this period of insanity I kept in touch with my inner man. On a rafting trip in individual rafts down the Franklin River in 1988 I cooked for our party of six. No dried jerky and dream stew for us. I took smoked kranskies, kassler and gnocchi and cheese for cider fondue eaten with rusks out of trangias. Overproof Bundaberg and river water completed the evening meals in place of wine.

I really don't know what happened but as I slowed down I started to beef up and when, in January 2006, I broke my ankle climbing up to the Lost World on Mt Wellington and caught a helicopter to the operating theatre, that was really the end of my extreme exercise.
And so I come to my present sad state - mesomorph, morbidly obese, ecstatically happy but, (having given up serious drinking 12 months ago), retaining enough brain cells to know that something must give if I am to live my allotted span. Thus it is that I have given myself up to Sherri's boxing Ring and Mary's healthy meals.

Last week it was a one hour workout comprising warm up, boxing, medicine ball and weights followed by steamed ling and oven baked chips and rocket and walnut salad. I felt good. This week I will don Sherri's boxing gloves again and I think I feel one of Jill Dupleix's salads Nicoise coming on, (apologies to Simon Thomsen for the spiffy photo in the link).

Ah well at least, notwithstanding the ravages of time, I have my food memories to keep me going and to provide me with the motivation to get fit - so I can do it all over again!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pate de Choux - Gruyere Gougere

Gruyere evokes precious food memories for Mary and me. We stayed there several years ago with Hans and Myrtha, old friends from Zurich who we met in a restaurant in Venice (the Bella Venezia), many years earlier.

The smell of the countryside and the smell of the raw cheese combine with the taste and the aroma of fondue and grilled raclette and of kirsch and cafe de l'amitie.

We stayed, as you would expect, at the Hotel de Ville, walking there carrying our suitcases from the carpark through the narrrow cobbled streets under the watchful gaze of the Castle.

The wobbly Youtube video at the foot of this post gives you a good idea of what Gruyere is like on a misty morning, as it was when we were there. If you listen carefully at the start of the video you can hear the ubiquitous sound of the cowbells tinkling. If you watch the clip you will see Le Chalet restaurant which is the best raclette and fondue eatery in the village and is the place where Mary and I discovered the shared wooden pot of cafe de l'amitie, the coffee made with the eau de vie of the region.

But fondue and raclette, much loved chez nous at St Malo are their own stories. Today's is about gougere made with gruyere cheese, in them and on them. Gougere are in a league of their own when it comes to a light satisfying cheesy snack to consume with wine.

The recipe reproduced here with the kind permission of Sue Dyson and Roger McShane can be downloaded from their Food Tourist website. Tonight we ate the gougere pictured above with a Cairanne Catherine le Goueil '06 Cuvee Lea Felsch, a magnificent organic/ biodynamic red from the Loire and one from Roger and Sue's Terroir Wines stable.

These cheesy melt in the mouth wine soakers are delicious with good anchovies and also with fresh ricotta or goat's cheese. The recipe below can be followed exactly for instant success. I found it pays to grate the gruyere with a microplane to get it shaved finely but I don't think it would matter if you use Mum's old cheese grater. The other tip from Sue that works is to beat the eggs and cheese in in the mixer at a good high speed and for quite a while until the mix shines like mayonnaise.

I made some with the extra gruyere sprinkled over and some without and while the shape and flavour is pretty much the same in each case, the ones with the sprinkled gruyere have a deeper colour. I used a 200C super fan forced setting on my Smeg and cooked for 20 minutes exactly. The mix makes about 35 gougere, each one from a good heaped teaspoon of the pastry onto the baking tray.

For anyone in doubt about the basic method of cooking the dough in the saucepan on the stove top the demonstration clip linked below is very good.

Bon appetit - a votre sante.

Gougere recipe

Reviewed By

Sue Dyson and Roger McShane
Food Style: French

Gougere are the perfect pre-dinner snack on a cold winter's
They are also perfect at parties as no serving problems exist.
The trick is to use good quality gruyere cheese and also to
ensure that your butter is completely absorbed by the boiling
The mixture you make is called choux pastry.
125 grams (4 oz) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon salt
250 ml (8 fluid oz) water
125 grams (4 oz) plain flour
220 grams (7 oz) beaten eggs (about 4 large eggs)
60 grams (2 oz) grated Gruyere cheese
15 grams (.5 oz) extra grated Gruyere cheese
Take the chilled butter and cut it into small dice.
Place the cold water, salt and butter in a small,
heavy-based saucepan and bring slowly to the boil over
high heat stirring all the time.
The butter should be completely melted and 'emulsified'
into the water.
Remove from heat and quickly beat in all the flour,
stirring with a wooden spoon until it forms a solid ball.
Put back on the heat for a minute or so, beating all the time
to dry out the mixture a little.
Place the mixture in an electric mixer and, on high speed,
gradually incorporate the cheese and the beaten eggs.
It should be slightly liquid like a heavy mayonnaise.
Butter a baking tray and then lightly dust it with flour.
Place walnut-sized drops of the batter on the tray then
sprinkle the extra cheese over.
Bake at 205C (400F) for twenty minutes or until puffed
and golden.
© Sue Dyson and Roger McShane, 2002
This recipe must not be reproduced in print or displayed
on another Web site in part or whole without the written
permission of the authors.

Choux pastry demonstration from

The village of Gruyere