Homemade Lemonade


It’s stinking hot today and I am sitting at work in the struggling air-conditioning, completely failing to keep my body temperature ambient. Despite being surrounded by some of the best beers the world has to offer, I’m not in the mood. I just want to be refreshed dammit, and water just isn’t cutting it anymore.

So my thoughts turn to soft drinks. Conventional soft drinks are far too sweet for me, not to mention packed full of nasties. I’ve become quite hooked on the Organic Ginger Beer from Hepburn Springs that I discovered at Vegetable Connection and ordered for the restaurant the next day (their blood orange mineral water is killer with Campari too), but I’m not in the mood.

Over Christmas at my parents house in the Noosa hinterland my mum was making a batch of what she called “lemon drink” in her trusty Thermomix every day that we drank by the bucketload. I called her for the recipe, but not having a Thermomix and only having about two minutes in the kitchen before the chefs start yelling at me, I adapted the recipe somewhat.

So it’s simple, but it’s delicious. And I’m about to polish off a second glass. My body almost feels a normal temperature now. Almost.

Lemonade or “Lemon Drink”

3 lemons

70 g sugar (raw sugar if you have it – it gives a little more depth of flavour)

500 ml water

Soda water

Freshly picked mint leaves

Place the lemons in the bowl of a food process or blender with a tiny splash of water and process as much as you can. Strain, squeezing out all the juice.

Add the sugar, water and lemon juice to a saucepan and bring to the boil. Let it simmer for a few minutes until the sugar has dissolved and you have a delicious lemon syrup. Add more lemon or water or sugar to taste. Remove from the heat and cool completely.

Fill a glass with ice, add a few torn mint leaves, pour in enough lemon to fill halfway and top up with soda water.

Drink on a hot summer’s day, preferably not at work.

The Legendary Lobster Roll

So unless you’ve been living under a food media-deprived rock since the beginning of the year (or you know, not in Melbourne) you will probably have heard of the Lobster Roll. It’s become legendary, winning dish of the year accolades all over the place and generally earning rave reviews from all and sundry.

Golden Fields, from whence it came, even sells them take-away now. I would hit that every day if it weren’t in St Kilda. I don’t do St Kilda. Though if any man were to convince me to change my mind, it could only be Andrew McConnell.

The Golden Fields Lobster Roll. Not my picture - I was too busy eating to take photos.

But as I am north of the river all the way, I just dream of the day I will again venture south and eat this heavenly sandwich. It really is heavenly. For those of you who have not yet had the pleasure – here’s a breakdown:

Based on a Maine, New England style lobster roll (thus the name despite the fact that it uses crayfish and not lobster) it’s a few slices of perfect crayfish sandwiched in a lightly grilled sweet, soft, Asian-style bun, with naught but some watercress and a squeeze of Kewpie mayonnaise for company. It’s simplicity and good sourcing at its best.

At the markets recently I spotted some rather nice looking fresh cray tails and since I have no plans to head to south side any time soon, I decided to treat myself for lunch. Buying a tail with no head meant I avoided the uncomfortable “how best to kill my crayfish” situation by letting someone else do the dispatching for me (though I’ve never cooked one that was not whole before – swings and roundabouts). For the record, I would usually pop it in the freezer or an ice bath until it’s asleep, then drive a knife into the brain, killing it instantly and theoretically painlessly, before cooking.

A nice piece of tail.

First, I lightly poached the crayfish tail in salted water and butter. Shellfish love butter. Really if you’re going to have a luxury ingredient, you may as well go full luxury. One crayfish tail was enough for two sandwiches, though two tails between three would have been the perfect, super indulgent amount. I pulled it out after about 10 minutes, peeled it and sliced it into neat rounds. It didn’t look like much meat to share between two, but once on the roll it yielded a surprising amount.

Next I made a quick mayonnaise with loads of lemon zest and juice to give it a nice zing, and finished it with chopped fennel tops, leftover from the baby fennel I shaved on a mandolin to mix with watercress, lemon, oil and plenty of cracked pepper.

Getting all still-lifey with my limited photography skills.

Finally I warmed some baguettes in the oven, and brushed the open faces with a little melted butter, because I can’t emphasise enough how much crayfish loves butter.

To assemble, I gave the cray meat a quick bath in melted butter before layering it on the bread and slathering with mayonnaise. I then topped it with the watercress and fennel salad and sat down with a glass of Ardeche Chardonnay to toast a completely indulgent lunch.

Not Golden Fields', but pretty darn delicious all the same.

Manfriend declared it the best crayfish roll he’s ever had. That being said he’s never been to Golden Fields, but I’ll take the compliments when I can get them.

The Ugliest Pie in the World

There is something so nostalgic about apple pie. When you smell that sweet pastry and those cinnamon-laced apples baking, it takes you right back to a childhood spent standing at the kitchen bench with a mother rubbing flour and butter with her fingers, explaining why you need cold hands, letting you use the rolling pin, peeling apples, baking the thing, pulling it out of the oven and serving it with lashings of vanilla ice-cream. I didn’t have that childhood; my mother, though a proficiently skilled pastry maker and the source of most of my baking knowledge and passion, did not make apple pie. Oh she made lemon tarts, and apple crumbles, and cakes of varying flavours, just not apple pie. We ate those frozen Nanna’s apple pies (my mother will cringe to know I’ve shared that). I won’t speak for the rest of my family, but at the time I adored those things. Somehow despite this lack of apple pie-filled childhood, I still get nostalgic for apple pie. And I was craving one.

Apples set for the pie-ing

Having no one to juice for knowledge and a good recipe, I decided to use the first recipe I found as a guide, making my own changes as I went along. Stephanie Alexander was a bust on the subject, but I did find a recipe by Ross Dobson in which cinnamon was prevalent and went with that instead. I very quickly realised I had no cinnamon in the house – a common problem when it’s your favourite sweet spice – and no flour either for that matter, and such was my pie craving that I made a trip to the grocer in naught but leggings as pants. Leggings are not pants!

Sufficiently stocked up with ingredients, I went ahead with the pie. And, as I was playing very fast and loose with the recipe, and may or may not have enjoyed a glass of Chianti during the making, the integrity of my pie descended rapidly. First off, I added too much water to the dough so it was a mite too sticky. And then I forgot about the apples so they cooked a little too long (curse you delicious, delicious Chianti). And then when it came to baking the thing, I was halfway through a movie, halfway through a second bottle, and just really needing some pie, so the assemblage was, shall we say, less than perfect.

"Less than perfect" - the understatement of the century

But despite all these things being against me, holy smokes this pie was delicious. Because of my aforementioned love of cinnamon, I bumped up the spices in the dough so it was almost like gingerbread in flavour. It didn’t have the texture of good pastry; it was almost biscuity. And the apples managed to hold a little bit of texture despite their overcooking. It’s an unusual type of pie – all the spices go into the pastry, and the apples are kept plain with just a little lemon and sugar for company, which means you get this moorishly spiced dough wrapped around tangy apple filling, drizzled with lashings of cream.

I know I seem to say this about every baked good I make, but it was like crack, addictive as all get out. I had a piece for desert every single night, which is unheard of for me. Nostalgia sated, I now know why my mother didn’t feed pies to her already chubby child. Smart woman.

Apple Gingerbread Pie

8 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and sliced

2 tsp lemon juice

Zest of 1 lemon

1 tsp cinnamon

50 g caster sugar

250 g self-raising flour

190 g brown sugar

1 ½ tbsp cinnamon

1 tbsp ground ginger

125 g cold unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1 free-range egg

Place apple slices in a saucepan with lemon juice, zest, caster sugar and 1 tsp cinnamon. Cover and cook over low heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often so they soften and cook evenly. Allow the apple slices to cool.

For the pastry, pulse the flour, brown sugar and remaining spices in a food processor. Add the butter several cubes at a time and pulse. Alternatively, you can use your fingers to rub the butter into the flour. Add the egg and 1-2 tbsp cold water and process until combined. The dough should be quite dry. At this point, don’t be fooled into thinking the dough looks too dry and add more water – this was my foolhardy error. Knead to form a ball. Wrap the pastry in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or until ready to assemble.

Preheat oven to 180°C.

Cut the dough in two (one piece slightly larger than the other). Roll the larger between 2 sheets of greaseproof paper and line the bottom and sides of a greased, loose bottomed 20cm x 4cm high fluted tart tin (or the closest baking dish you can find, if all your tart and cake tins have been procured by a restaurant, as mine have. One more step to making this thing look reeeally ugly). Spoon in the apples, roll the remaining pastry out and place on top. Seal and trim the edges, then use a small knife to make several slits in the top of the pie and to seal the edges and create some sort of design (haphazardly if again, you want to imitate my work of art). Put the pie in the oven and bake for 60 minutes or until the pastry is dark brown.

Remove and allow to rest for 10 minutes before serving with loads of fresh cream.

Meet John Dory

We are having a real John Dory moment at mi casa at the moment. It seems to be the ‘hot’ fish at so many restaurants and I can see why – it’s relatively cheap, it has an awesome texture, it’s not overused and it tastes gorgeous.

Dory really does look like this!

To tell you the truth, though I absolutely love to eat fish I very rarely order fish – it’s almost always disappointing. If I am served a perfect piece of fish, pan-fried perfectly, yes it tastes lovely, but it’s boring. I can cook a piece of fish perfectly. I can season it perfectly. I can source it perfectly. And I can slice a cheek of lemon perfectly. A fish fillet is ridiculously easy to cook, it’s just hard to make interesting.

John Dory has become the exception to this not particularly hard and fast rule. One dory dish in particular is making great strides to change my opinion of fish in restaurants – the dory at Carlton Wine Room. We recently visited for manfriend’s birthday – we were seated in the spectacular cellar, surrounded by wine and candles, and had a completely lovely evening. The highlight was without doubt the dory, served with hazelnut spatzle and saffron broth. It is insane. I will order that dish every time I go there for as long as it is on.

Just kidding, it's nowhere near that cute. And it's memory was fine.

So John Dory has swiftly become the fish of choice for our Tuesday night fish cookery sessions. Understandably, we eat a substantial amount of meat during the week so every Tuesday we go crazy with loads of vegetables and fish. So far the favourite home version has been somewhat inspired by CWR’s version (I dream about it).

A fish, a fish, a fish, a fishy ohhhh

First we made a simple fish stock from a snapper carcass we bought at the market. I really recommend that whenever you are spending some time in the kitchen, you pick up some bones and make some stock. This rather meaty carcass cost us less than a dollar and made enough for dinner with about a litre left over. We cooked it with just a little onion and garlic – I like to keep stocks simple, and build flavour for each dish.

I call this one "fennel in pan"

Next I braised some fennel. This is my favourite preparation for fennel as it really lets the aniseed flavour shine through. I fry slices in a little olive oil until golden, then add water (or in this case, beer) gradually and let it bubble away, then add a little more. Finish with some chopped garlic, a little more liquid, plenty of salt and pepper, let it bubble away then stir through all the chopped fronds.

Then to turn that stock into broth. I sautéed some of the tough outer layer of fennel with a little garlic and a tiny pinch of saffron (and I mean tiny, we ran out – I am terrible at checking the pantry before I shop). Then I added a splash of vermouth, let it bubble, then a good amount of the light fish stock. I let this simmer for a time to get the flavours going, seasoning well, then strained it. You could clarify it to get a gloriously clear, clean broth, but to be honest I don’t mind a little cloudiness; it’s all flavour. We boiled a couple of new potatoes in the broth, quickly pan-fried the dory with just some salt, pepper and butter, and served.

Dinner!

Since I am a firm believer in always eating greens, I also cooked some rainbow chard in oil and lemon and sautéed some zucchini as a side.

Delicious, delicious chard

This was a pretty tremendous meal. Any suggestions how to cook my John Dory next week?

What quickly descends into a diatribe on cooking risotto right

Supremely awesome Truffled Bunny Risotto

First the bunny was broken down into three separate sections – the back legs for braising and shredding through the risotto, the saddle for gently pan-frying and laying atop the risotto, and the rest of the bunny to make a rabbit stock for the base of the risotto. For the stock I just used the top of a leek and some parsley stalks to flavour it, and the legs were braised with onion, carrot and a little chicken stock after browning. These were both left to bubble away for the afternoon while we alternated between scrubbing dust from the tops of fridges and such, and eating delicious cake.

I won’t give you the full recipe for making risotto here. I think if you know how, you already have your method, and if you don’t, there are multiple recipes out there. Friday night was risotto night when I lived with my family and it would always be a fight to see whether it would be me or my Dad who would make it. So I have eaten a lot of risotto in my time, some good some bad, and have some hard and fast rules that I stick to, and have been drummed into me by my cooking mentor John Maiorana.

1) Always use Italian rice. They have perfected it. Italian rice has greater absorption properties than Australian-grown rice of the same varieties. The Australian varieties are okay, but tend to break down quicker, meaning a starchy, creamy risotto but no chance of an al dente bite. This may in fact be an urban myth, but still one that I stand by. My favourite variety is Vialone Nano, but I also use Arborio or Carnaroli, depending on what’s available.

2) Toast the grains. First you want to sweat your onions, not colour them, in a little olive oil or butter (I use a combination of both). Then the rice – roughly ¼ – 1/3 cup per person – and allow every single grain of rice to become coated in the oil, and toasty warm.

3) Make sure your pan is hot when you add the wine. You want it to sizzle. PS you don’t have to use wine – I used vermouth for this one, as I like the flavour it gives and I never seem to have white wine hanging about.

4) Stir. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to stand at the stove stirring a risotto for the whole time. You just have to give it a stir every once in a while to make sure things are moving, and the rice isn’t sticking. I prefer stirring to agitating the pan, it feels more like real cooking to me, like I’m in touch with the food.

5) Hot stock! Oh god, the amount of times I have seen cooks adding stock straight out of a carton into risotto. No! It must be hot. Have it in a saucepan, hot and ready to go before you start. If you add cold stock to a hot risotto, it’s going to constantly be lowering the temperature, slowing everything down and changing the cooking process. I’d love to say always use homemade stock but you know what, sometimes that’s just not possible. What I will say is only use a stock that you trust, and that you enjoy the taste of by itself. They say you should never cook with a wine you wouldn’t drink; well I say you should never use a stock that you wouldn’t drink. A risotto is all about the rice, not the accompaniments. That rice is going to soak up all its flavour from that stock, and if you use stock cubes your risotto is basically going to taste like 2 minute noodles.

6) Al dente and the spread. Risotto needs bite to the rice. Not chewy, undercooked rice, but creamy rice with just a slight texture to the grain. You also want it to spread once it hits the plate. If your risotto can be piled up on a plate, you’re not doing it right. The easiest way to get these effects I find, is to taste taste taste the risotto and right before it gets to the correct stage, when it has just a bit too much bite to enjoy, add another small ladleful of hot stock, a good handful of Grana Padano, a good knob of butter, and any last minute additions (in this case, the shredded rabbit meat). Then take it off the heat, and rest it for 5-10 minutes. Just don’t touch it. As meat needs to rest after cooking, so does rice. It will absorb the last of the stock, and become creamy and rich from the cheese and butter, and just allow the flavours to really set in and become right. This is when the magic happens. And it gives you the opportunity to gently panfry the saddle of rabbit in some butter, rest that briefly, slice, make a quick watercress salad with an aged balsamic dressing, and set the table. Oh and cover the top of the risotto with a generous shaving of black truffle.

That seems like a lot to remember, and a lot of steps to follow, but if you cut out all my overly explanatory prose, it’s six very simple steps that should result in practically perfect risotto every time. Let’s just say that manfriend did say it’s the best risotto he’s had in a very long time, which includes the ungodly heavenly truffle risotto at Town Hall Hotel we had last week. Though realistically he may have been trying to butter me up to get me to clean up the now very re-messified kitchen, but I’m going to take it as gospel all the same. It was pretty damn good, just to blow my own trumpet.

I’m curious, is there anything I’ve missed? Are there any other rules I should be guided by?

Domesticity, and the art of cooking risotto

As you can probably see by my last post, occasionally I get engulfed in a haze of domesticity. On my recent Tuesday, this was amplified times a million, after a dinner party was cancelled and manfriend and I decided to spend almost the entire day at home, doing homely things, and just generally enjoying being mildly normal for once. This entailed not only cleaning the house, which is a considerable task, given its size and length of time since the last clean (considerable), but also wandering the markets slowly deciding what to eat slowly and with care and based on what looked good (whilst eating a borek, naturally), multiple coffees at the bar at Carlton Espresso (Tuesday ritual), and cooking all afternoon. Lunch, afternoon tea and dinner. Long sentence, and a whole lot of italics there, but it’s how I feel man, it’s how I feeel.

Back to what looked good at the markets. Bunnies. Cute as anything and cheap too – $10 for one plump farmed bunny. Gorgeous. As I mentioned last post we have a truffle at home, and we’ve been storing it in a jar with eggs and rice to infuse them. So naturally we wanted to use the truffle before it loses it’s pungency, and why not the rice too? So risotto it was.

Also, the incredibly awesome smoked salmon from Pavilion – another Tuesday ritual – blood oranges for cake, rhubarb for breakfast, Cotes du Rhone from King and Godfrey, baguette from La Parisiennes Pates, and buffalo mozzarella from La Latteria (which deserves a post all to itself).

Got home, cracked some beers (Zweic, from the local grocery store, because we have a fridge full of beer but a dearth of easy drinkers), and had a platter of smoked salmon with capers, shallots and lemon, baguette, mozzarella and watercress salad. A veritable pantheon of culinary treats (I watch Iron Chef America too many nights, and it’s starting to show).

Then, while Chris helpfully started scraping candle wax off the dining room table, I simultaneously baked a cake and started on dinner. The cake was blood orange and almond syrup cake, it was ridiculously delicious, and the recipe is below. It’s too good not to make. But dinner was a little more work. So I’m going to split this into two posts, to scintillate and keep you glued to the screen. Or simply to stop you from getting bored.

 

Blood Orange Syrup Cake 

2 blood oranges

3 free range eggs

1 cup caster sugar

3 cups almond meal

1 tsp baking powder

2 blood oranges

¾ cup caster sugar

Pre-heat oven to 170°C.

Place two blood oranges in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil over medium heat and leave to cook for 15 minutes. Drain, then cover again with cold water and boil for a further 15 minutes. (This will take the bitterness from the orange pith). Refresh and allow to cool.

Roughly chop the oranges, removing any seeds. Place in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.

Mix together eggs and caster sugar until pale and creamy. Stir through the orange mixture, almond meal and baking powder. Pour into a 22 cm greased and lined cake tin and bake for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, zest and juice two more blood oranges and combine in a saucepan with caster sugar. Simmer until thick and syrupy. Add some water if too thick, or more sugar if you prefer it sweeter.

Once the cake is cooked, remove and cool for as long as you can stand to not eat it. Poke it all over with a skewer and our over the syrup, reserving a little to pour over individual pieces. Everyone always wants more syrup whether it’s needed or not.

Though I seem to say this about most of my baked goods, this cake is like crack. It disappeared quicker than I could have expected and I’ve already made a second one since.

PS Sorry the title of this post was misleading: all that “art” is coming next time.

A Fresh Start

So I’m back, hopefully for good this time. In my defense, I have been kind of busy lately. But I feel it’s time for me to turn my attention back to food, at least the food I like, I cook, I eat, rather than the (albeit delicious) stuff we serve to people every day. The restaurant is more than I expected in every single way, but as any small business owner will tell you, it does tend to completely consume all aspects of your existence. I breathe, eat, drink, live that place. As it stands I usually have one day a week that I get to slow down and cook dinner, or go out and taste other people’s food, and I’d like to concentrate on that in my spare time rather than go over and over and over in my head with accounts and MYOB and payroll and dish ideas and staff and plates and all the other maddeningly neverending aspects of restaurant management. Not a day goes by that I don’t lament the lack of real, actual cooking in my life. You know, standing at the stove for hours, slowly stirring, and tasting, and smelling and generally just being totally absorbed in the creation of something delicious. I need that. I crave that. So to try to extend that feeling, it’s back on the internets to spread the love.

So of the many, many dishes that I’ve cooked in the last year I thought I’d start with something simple. To be honest most weeks find me cooking a simple piece of crispy skin fish with as many different vegetable dishes as I can for dinner. Boring recipes, but good for the yums. But in the spirit of beginnings, I’m going to start with how I begin my days. I got so excited the other night because I finally had the time and energy to prepare my breakfast for the next day. I love breakfast, I value breakfast, I really, really need breakfast every day or I get, in manfriend’s words, “punchy”. Yeah, when my blood sugar gets low I am not a pleasant person to be around. So breakfast is in my and everyone around me’s best interest.

I’ve always loved all breakfast foods (just wait until I get to talk about the eggs that are currently sitting in a jar with a sexy, sexy Tasmanian black truffle) but for everyday, I need something healthy, something light and something that is going to keep me in that all-important non-punchy frame of mind.

My Toasted Muesli

 

Punchies be damned!

No set amounts for this one – it all depends on what you like. This isn’t so much a recipe, but a rough guide. I’ve seen recipes for toasted muesli that use oils and sugars etc but I try to limit my intake of ‘unhealthy’ foods to post-midday, when it’s a hedonistic free-for-all. I usually pair this with some chia porridge (crazy hippy food my mum has put me onto), fresh or poached seasonal fruit (at the moment rhubarb poached with orange zest and coconut sugar), good organic yoghurt and milk. For something so ostensibly healthy, I find this terribly addictive. Even manfriend who is breakfast adverse, has found himself munching on a handful fresh out of the oven, it’s that good. It’s the cinnamon and honey I tells you.

Oats

Honey

Cinnamon

Shredded coconut

Orange zest, optional

Ghoji berries

Dried organic apricots

Organic pepitas (they’re way tastier, trust me)

Sunflower seeds

Chopped almonds

Puffed rice

Combine the oats, cinnamon, shredded coconut and zest in a bowl.

Be liberal with the cinnamon.

Heat equal parts honey and water in a small saucepan until warmed through, combined and thinned, then pour over oats and mix to combine – I use about ¼ cup total for about 3 cups of oats, just enough to coat the oats lightly. The honey will caramelise to a glorious golden brown in the oven, and the water is just there to thin it down enough to stir through the oats; it will evaporate.

Our oven has two temperatures - 250°C and really, really hot. This is how we dial it down to "about 170°C". Ingenious.

Bake in a slow to moderate oven for about 20 minutes or until the mixture is golden. Once cooled, stir through the dried fruit, nuts, seeds and puffed rice.

Golden flakes of yum.