Whip It Good

whipped cream in bowl yellow with strawberry 640x640Pavlova wouldn’t be half the experience without lashings of whipped cream. And, in the absence of whipped cream an ice-cream sundae would be just… a bowl of ice-cream.

People have been whipping cream in Europe for centuries, and now-days it has found its way into the cuisines of most cultures.

But, whipping cream is not quite as straight forward as you may think, there is some important science involved in the process.

To begin with, pure cream has to contain at least 30% fat or it will be unable to hold air bubbles. To make lower fat creams whip successfully, the manufacturers add thickening agents.

Basically, while whipping cream (by hand or machine) the fat droplets connect into a network that collects and holds the air bubbles being incorporated during the whipping process.

This method is referred as ‘aeration’, and results in a thick, fluffy mixture approximately twice the volume of the original cream.

However, if you continue whipping for too long the fat droplets will stick together and begin forming butter. So don’t whip it too good. This will collapse the mixture, and turn into a yellowish slop of butter and liquid. Trust me, I’ve gotten distracted and made butter quite a few times.

Whipped cream can have flavourings such as sugar and vanilla added, as in ‘Crème Chantilly’, which is delicious.

It can also be folded through a chocolate mousse for enrichment. Whipped cream makes a fantastic accompaniment to scones, pumpkin pie, cakes, waffles or dollop on liqueur coffees

Strawberries Romanoff

  • 250g strawberries, chopped
  • 2 tbsp icing sugar
  • 30ml strawberry liqueur
  • 150ml cream
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla essence
  1. Combine the strawberries, icing sugar and liqueur in a bowl and leave covered in the refrigerator for 1 hour to macerate.
  2. In a bowl, combine the cream, caster sugar and vanilla essence.
  3. Whip the cream until it forms soft peaks.
  4. Fold the macerated berries into the whipped cream, spoon into a glass and serve immediately.

Note: Can be garnished with orange segments and a fresh mint sprig. Crumbled meringue can be added for texture.

Posted in Food and Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dodging Bunya Nuts

Illustration of Bunya NutsA few years back, while picnicking at the Bunya Mountains, one of my children was almost hit by a bowling ball sized Bunya cone, which hurtled to Earth faster than the speed of sound.

It exploded into the ground, making a crater before rolling down the hill into our picnic blanket. Good thing my son had just moved away seconds earlier.

Bunya nuts are one of Australia’s greatest indigenous bush foods. They are large almond shaped nuts that grow in tight cones, on giant rainforest pine trees of South-East Queensland – particularly the Bunya Mountains.

The Aboriginal people used to eat them raw, or toasted in the fire and eaten like chestnuts, or even ground up like flour.

Nowadays, chefs have found many other uses for them, such as soups, quiches, pastries, cakes, biscuits and condiments. They easily absorb other flavours.

The biggest problem with the nuts is their hard and fibrous shell. As yet, nobody has come up with an effective method of harvesting and shelling them.

You can find shelled and frozen Bunya nuts at many bush food suppliers around the country – or just wait to dodge one before it clobbers you on the head at a picnic.

Bunya Nut Pesto

This recipe came from an apprentice chef I trained.

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 55g Bunya nuts
  • 55g fresh basil leaves
  • 70g parmesan cheese, grated
  • 125ml extra virgin olive oil
  • pinch of salt
  1. Blend  garlic and Bunya nuts to a smooth puree.
  2. Blend in basil leaves and parmesan cheese.
  3. While blending, gradually pour olive oil until the desired consistency is achieved.

Note: You could also add a little melted butter. Use as a sauce for pasta, or spread on crispy Italian bread. Serve the meat and sauce with mashed potato or creamy polenta.

Serves 4.

Posted in Food and Cooking | Leave a comment

Rise Of The Vego

Picture of vegetablesThroughout my career as a chef, I’ve noticed an increase in the amount and types of customer dietary requirements.

Once the bane of a chef’s existence, customers with special dining needs have developed into quite a lucrative niche market for the restaurant industry.

Many food businesses are now specifically catering for this category of customer.

There are many reasons why a person would have specific food requirements, such as severe allergies, food intolerances, cultural norms, religious beliefs, lifestyle choices and ethical principles.

One of the most diverse customer dietary requirements encountered by a chef is the countless variations of vegetarianism. Here are some of the vegetarian diets:

Vegan: No meat, fish, poultry or any other food product derived from animals, such as milk and eggs.

Raw-vegetarian: Basically a vegan who only eats raw or slightly warmed vegetable matter. The belief is that cooking destroys valuable enzymes and nutrients.

Fruitarian: A person who only eats fruits, nuts, seeds and other plant product that can be harvested without destroying the plant itself.

Ovo-vegetarian: is a vegetarian who eats eggs but not dairy.

Ovo-lacto-vegetarian: This is a vegetarian that also eats dairy and eggs, but they may not eat cheese, because animal rennet may be used to culture the cheese. This is actually one of the most common vegetarian diets.

Lacto-Vegetarian: Will eat dairy, but no eggs.

From experience, I’d also add Confused-vegetarian to this list – a customer who hasn’t done their research and is eating animal product half the time without realising it.

Anyway, here’s a great vegetarian recipe:

Grilled Pumpkin and Mushroom Salad

  • 500g pumpkin, cut into 1cm thick wedges
  • 3 flat mushrooms, sliced
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • salt & freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 80g baby spinach leaves
  • crusty bread, to serve
  1. Blanch pumpkin slices in simmering water until almost cooked, but still firm.
  2. Place pumpkins and mushrooms in a shallow dish. Combine half the olive oil, brown sugar, cumin and salt in a bowl and mix to combine for marinade.. Toss the marinade over the mushrooms. Cover and set aside 5 minutes.
  3. Combine the remaining olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix well to combine for dressing.
  4. Preheat a barbeque plate on a medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, tossing frequently, for 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the pumpkin and cook 2-3 minutes each side. Arrange the spinach, mushrooms and pumpkin onto serving plate. Drizzle dressing. Serve with bread.

Serves approx. 2 people

Posted in Food and Cooking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Which Pumpkin?

Picture of chef and pumpkinsThe Goomeri Pumpkin Festival will again entertain thousands of festival-goers this coming weekend, and I’ll be there performing cooking demonstrations.

It’s critical that I select the right pumpkin for each recipe, because each species has its own unique qualities. Texture, flavour, colour and moisture content can vary considerably.

Below is a guide to the most popular pumpkin types:

Jarrahdale – has a hard grey skin, which should be peeled. The moist bright orange flesh is not suitable for baking and is best boiled, steamed or pureed.

Butternut – are an elongated pear shaped fruit (yes, pumpkins are fruit) with a creamy brown coloured skin. The dry flesh is sweet and nutty in flavour, which makes it ideal for soup; however it is versatile enough for most cooking methods.

Queensland Blue – looks a bit like Jarrahdale, but is generally a bit larger and has deeper grooves. It has a smooth texture when steamed and pureed, it’s great for using in desserts and scones.

Golden Nugget – are a smaller pumpkin with a bright orange skin. The flesh has quite a bland flavour. For this reason, they are often hollowed out and stuffed with ingredients such as feta and spinach, then baked.

Kent – also known as ‘Jap’ or ‘Kabocha’, they have a dark green skin covered with blond coloured freckles. They have a fluorescent yellow/orange flesh that is great for roasting because it is soft, dry and easy to cut into chunks. The skin is tender enough to be left on when roasted.

*varieties listed above typically available in Australia 

Roast mushroom and pumpkin salad

  •  500g jap pumpkin, 1cm thick slices
  • 200g chickpeas, canned
  • 200g flat mushrooms, 1cm thick slices
  • 1 red onion, 1cm thick slices
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves
  • rocket leaves
  1. Combine oil, balsamic vinegar, sugar and seasoning together.
  2. Drizzle over vegetables and roast at 200oC for 20-30 minutes.
  3. Serve warm, on a bed of rocket and sprinkle with fresh tarragon leaves.
Posted in Food and Cooking | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sweet Succulent Sea Scallops

Scallops are named after the fanned, fluted appearance of their shell.

They are categorised as a bivalve mollusc.

There is hundreds of species found throughout the waters of the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific Oceans.

The closer you live to the ocean, the better your chances of purchasing scallops still alive – but in most cases they are sold already shucked (removed from the shell) and frozen.

The reason for this is that scallops deteriorate quickly when removed from the sea and after they have been shucked.

If not frozen they should be eaten within a day.

Scallops should be light pink in colour, moist, shiny and with a fresh seawater smell.

I have purchase scallops with and without the bright orange roe – this depends on what you prefer.

Some people don’t like the strong taste of the roe, or the reality that it’s the reproductive organ of the scallop. Personally it doesn’t bother me, and the orange row looks spectacular on the plate. In fact I’ve worked in some restaurants where we only served the roe.

Scallops should be cooked quickly (grilled or seared) served medium-rare to remain plump, sweet and succulent.

Seared Scallop Salad

Dress a salad of mixed baby lettuce leaves with vinaigrette made with freshly squeezed lime juice, honey, white wine vinegar, olive oil and a pinch of sea salt. Lightly toss fresh scallops in a little oil and place on a very hot grill plate – cook for about one minute on each side. Arrange scallops on top of salad, and Bob’s your uncle.

Posted in Food and Cooking | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sweet and the Sour

Picture of balsamic vinegarBalsamic vinegar is very popular, due to it’s rich, sweet characteristics.

It features prominently in many Italian recipes.

It is so sweet in fact that it can also be used in desserts.

Unlike most vinegar, Balsamic vinegar is not derived from wine but from newly pressed grape juice.

In its most traditional form, balsamic vinegar is made from the Trebbiano grape, which flourishes in the Modena region of Italy.

It is aged by transferring between barrels made from oak, chestnut, juniper or cherry, ash and finally mulberry. The transferring from one barrel to the other is known as ‘rincalzo’, which normally takes place in spring.

Throughout the prolonged aging process it gradually evaporates, requiring incrementally smaller barrels. Due to the dramatically reduced yield from the original volume of  grape juice, balsamic vinegar is quite expensive.

The most authentic balsamic vinegar, aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena, is one of the most expensive liquids on earth. It is aged and blended for up to fifty years and each bottle is signed and numbered.

Balsamic Vinaigrette

Drizzle this simple and delicious dressing on your favorite garden salad, which goes great with Italian food.

  • 1 small garlic clove
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 75ml extra virgin olive oil
  1. Blend garlic clove with a little salt.
  2. Add  Balsamic vinegar and half a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
  3. While continuing to blend, gradually add extra virgin olive oil until a smooth emulsion is formed.
  4. Season the dressing with salt and pepper.

 Balsamic Strawberries

One of my all time favourite uses is with strawberries. Yes, you read correctly! The following is a pretty standard and well-known recipe. You could also add a little cracked black pepper.

  • 500g  strawberries
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons icing sugar
  1. Wash and drain strawberries, then remove the hull.
  2. Cut the strawberries into quarters and place in a bowl.
  3. Gently toss the strawberries with the vinegar and sugar.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes before serving with double cream.
Posted in Food and Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Nutty Oil

Picture of peanut oilFor centuries, peanuts have played an important role in the cuisines of many cultures.

The humble legume sometimes referred to as ‘goober pea’ or ‘groundnut’, can be used in many forms.

One of the most important culinary commodities produced from peanuts, is cooking oil. Each day, millions of people around the world use peanut oil in their kitchens.

It could be best described as clear oil pressed from peanuts, used in salad dressings and especially prized for its frying qualities.

Peanut oil has a high smoke point (approximately 232oC), which is super-hot and great for wok frying. Because of the high smoke point, peanut oil can cook food quickly and very crisp, without burning and tasting bitter.

However, there is another kind of unrefined Chinese peanut oil which is darker in colour, has a distinctive peanut flavour and a much lower smoke point (approximately 160oC).

Unrefined peanut oil is a cold, first-pressed variety – much like a good quality extra virgin olive oil. It can taste a little strong though.

Modern high oleic variety peanuts produce oil with higher levels of mono-unsaturated fatty acids. It’s believed this makes the oil healthier because mono-unsaturated fatty acids have been shown to reduce cholesterol levels.

Peanut oil has a long shelf life compared with many other oils, as high polyunsaturated fatty acids are prone to oxidation and spoilage.

So, before you fry your next meal in lashings of rendered animal fat (with a complimentary cardiac arrest in every serve), consider peanut oil as a healthier alternative.

Thai Beef and Glass Noodle Salad

  • 80ml lime juice
  • 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 20ml extra virgin peanut oil
  • 2 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 tbsp coriander, finely chopped
  • 1 lemongrass stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 small red chilies, finely chopped
  • 2 rib fillet, 200 g each
  • 150g mixed leaf lettuce
  • ½ red onion, finely sliced
  • 15g coriander leaves, torn
  • 7g  mint leaves, torn
  • 250g cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 Lebanese cucumber
  • 150g toasted peanut
  • 50g glass noodles, soaked
  1. Mix together the lime juice, fish sauce, palm sugar, garlic, chopped coriander, lemon grass and chilli until the sugar has dissolved.
  2. Preheat a barbecue char Grill to medium-high direct heat and cook the steaks for 4 minutes or until medium.
  3. Let the steaks cool slightly, and then slice thinly across the grain.
  4. Put the salad leaves, onion, coriander leaves, mint, tomatoes, cucumber and peanuts in a large bowl, add the beef and dressing, toss them together and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Note: This recipe can be adjusted to suit the individuals taste. Adding some smaller birds eye chillies with the seeds left in will make a more potent spicy version. Garlic can be left out if preferred. Fresh coriander can be added for a more Thai style of sauce. The additional spices such as cinnamon, cloves and allspice can add for an interesting twist.

Posted in Food and Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Taste For Olives

Picture of olivesMy first taste of olives was on vacation, as a young teenager.

Shortly after taking off from Bahrain Airport, I was served lunch of assorted cheese, Middle Eastern style meats and (in my youthful ignorance) what I thought was a couple of black grapes.

The grapes happened to be black olives and with revulsion I impulsively spat one out and it landed at the feet of an airline steward.

Embarrassed, I cried out, “There’s something wrong with that grape”, only to have the steward laugh at me.

These days, olives happen to be one of my favorite foods – it’s astounding how your tastes change and develop with age.

Olives are the fruit from the evergreen olive tree, are available in two main colours – black and green

They have been cultivated for thousands of years, but their country of origin is subjective, although they have a noble heritage with the Middle East and the Mediterranean.

Egyptian mummies have been found with olive branches around them.

Olive oil was burned to light up Roman lanterns.

Most of the olive’s history and mythology originates from the ancient Greeks.

The first Olympic flame was carried on an olive branch (a bit different from London 2012 ).

The olive branch has been a symbol of peace for centuries, and the bible includes nearly 100 references to olive trees.

In the last century olives have found their way to the furthest corners of the world, with an estimated 700 varieties.

My personal favorite is Kalamata olives, which are dark eggplant-colored Greek style olives.

They’re usually packed in olive oil or vinegar, and are frequently slit so they absorb the flavour of the marinade in which they are soaked.

Olives should have a rich and fruity flavour.

Easy Tapenade Dip

  • 120g of pitted black pitted olives
  • 50g capers
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 anchovy fillets
  • 100ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 25ml lemon juice
  • pepper
  1. Using a food processor blend all ingredients to a smooth paste.
  2. Gradually blend in olive oil.
  3. Season with lemon juice and pepper to taste.

Will last for weeks in the refrigerator.

Serves 4.

Posted in Food and Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dreaming of a Balmy Christmas

Christmas ChefFor many years, the traditional Christmas luncheon has been dominated by European cuisine and a dash of American Hollywood.

Images of a glowing fireplace, the family dressed in their Christmas winter woollies while the snow gently falls outside the windows has been embedded in Western culture.

But what if you live in a country with a balmy Christmas climate?

Ultimately the reality of burning sun, drought, torrential flooding, blue skies and blowflies quickly destroys the fantasy of a white Christmas.

Therefore, you may not prefer to sit down to a heavy meal of roast meat, hot plum pudding and custard with lashings of warm eggnog.

So for those soon planning a Christmas luncheon, here is an alternative recipe idea with a summer twist.

Ice-cream Christmas Pudding 

  • 1 Lt chocolate ice cream
  • 1 cup mixed glace fruit, chopped (cherries, apricots, pears)
  • 90g sultanas
  • 70g golden raisons
  • 30mls dark rum
  1. Soften, but do not melt the ice cream.
  2. Add all the chopped glace fruits, dried fruits and rum.
  3. Mix in fruits until well combined.
  4. Pour into an oiled and cling wrap lined 1.5 Lt pudding mould.
  5. Freeze overnight.
  6. To unmold the pudding, briefly run the outside of the mould under warm water.
  7. Slice into individual portions and serve with Crème Fraiche and fresh raspberries

Serves 8.

Posted in Food and Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Rules

Picture of Plum PuddingThe festive decorations adorning our retail stores are a stark reminder that Christmas day is just around the corner.

For many it’s a time to gather with family and friends.

My family has rotating roster that dictates who will be hosting Christmas lunch.

My wife and I are both chefs, so we at least have to put in half an effort when it’s our turn to host.

So we follow some basic rules for planning:

  1. My wife makes the rules, which she can change without notice.
  2. Don’t leave planning to the last minute – which I most likely would if I made the rules.
  3. The food should be relatively healthy; as the average person puts on 1kg at this time of year (I’m consistently above average). And, try to take it easy on the booze.
  4. Keep it simple; don’t be trapped in the kitchen all day while everyone else is enjoying themselves. Consider using disposable plates, because nobody appreciates floor-to-ceiling dirty dishes on Christmas day.
  5. To avoid food poisoning, keep hot food above 60oC and cold food below 5oC. Do you really want a family reunion in hospital on Boxing Day?
  6. Try not to prepare too much food. There’s often a ridiculous amount of leftover ham and salads etc. in the week following Christmas.

 Christmas leftovers

The days following Christmas are very predictable.

Exchanging or returning gifts (broken or unwanted), coping with a hangover, post-Christmas bargain hunting and lots of leftovers in the fridge.

Of all the leftovers, baked ham would be the most common. Most people don’t want to waste big chunks of meat – but how do you use leftover ham without getting bored?

A little imagination! But don’t make sandwiches, because that’s boring.

A cheesy ham omelet for breakfast would be better. Or, a filo pastry parcel filled with garlic rice and chopped ham.

My favourite recipe for leftover ham is ‘Easy Peasy Pasta Carbonara’.

  • 500g pasta
  • 100g chopped ham
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2 tbsp cream
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese. Grated
  1.  Cook the ham in a fry pan until crisp. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Set the ham aside.
  2. Cook the pasta as directed on package.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks, cream, and garlic in a medium bowl and beat until well blended.
  4. When the pasta is cooked, drain and immediately return to the pot.
  5. Stir in the egg mixture and toss thoroughly until combined.
  6. Add the bacon and cheese and toss again to coat. Season if required.

Serves 4.

Posted in Food and Cooking | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment