The Hip Fruit

Picture of limesLimes must be one of the world’s most hip citrus fruits.

Demand for varieties like Tahitian and Kaffir has built up enormously over the last decade or so, probably because Asian cooking is so popular.

There are several common varieties grown:

  • Tahitian Lime is a very juicy fruit and grows all year round. When ripe they are a seedless green fruit – however they can be left on the tree to turn yellow, which makes them softer, juicier and a little sweeter.
  • Wild Finger Lime is a long, narrow fruit with a red brown coloured skin native to Australia. The juice is contained in little spherical cells (quite amazing to see), and has a tart flavour that works well in Asian dishes.
  •  Kaffir Lime is essential in Thai cooking. The leaves of the Kaffir lime tree are used in Thai curries. The zest of the nobly looking fruit is also used in certain recipes. However, the flesh of Kaffir lime is full of seeds, little juice and is generally discarded.

I have kaffir lime growing in my back yard and it’s one of my favourite trees – it’s often so full of fruit i don’t get to use them all.

Limes are an excellent source of Vitamin C.

 A (Not So) Fun Fact

In 1795 the British navy began to distribute rations of rum, laced with lime and lemon juice during long sea voyages. That’s where the nickname ‘Limeys’ (meaning British sailors) originated.

The Vitamin C in the citrus juice was largely successful in preventing scurvy.

It is a little known fact that well-known English Explorer Captain James Cook wrote an ill-informed report to the Admiralty based on experiences from his first and second voyages, that came to delay the introduction of lemon and lime juice rations for twenty years – costing countless lives.

Tom Yum Kung (Sour Shrimp Soup)

  • 350g raw green prawns, peeled and deveined
  • 2 Lt chicken stock
  • 3  lemongrass stalks, bruised and finely chopped
  • 3 galangal slices
  • 3 chilies
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves, torn
  • 2 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 70g straw mushrooms
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 3 tablespoons ime juice (fresh)
  • 3 tablespoons coriander leaves, torn
  1. In a saucepan bring the stock, one stalk of lemongrass and the galangal to the boil.
  2. Reduce the heat and gently simmer for 20 minutes.
  3. Strain the stock and discard the flavourings.
  4. To the stock, add the remaining 2 stalks of lemongrass, chilies, kaffir lime leaves, fish sauce, straw mushrooms and spring onions. Simmer for another couple of minutes.
  5. Add the prawns and cook for another couple of minutes until the prawns are firm and pink. Remove from the heat and add the lime juice and coriander leaves, then serve.

It’s also nice to add spoonfuls of steamed jasmine rice to your bowl of soup as you eat it.

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Feeling Blue

I personally don’t think blueberries are actually true blue.

They are kind of a dusty indigo colour on the outside and mainly white or pale green on the inside.

That said, they are as blue as a food is ever going to get. Most people are unaware there are many varieties, and around the globe blueberries are known by differing names.

In northern England they are often called Whineberry, and in other parts of the UK Whortleberries.

In America they can also be referred to as Bilberries or Huckleberries (think of Huckleberry Finn).

In Australia we just call them blueberries.

Regardless of the species or name, blueberries are a member of the Vaccinium species.

The firm skin surrounds a soft and juicy flesh with tiny, tender seeds.

They are on average the size of a pea.

Blueberries taste sweet and tart and are usually eaten raw, but are also spectacular baked into muffins or cooked into fruit compote or a jam.

They are a fantastic source of vitamin C.

Here are some great ideas for using blueberries:

  • Cooked into an apple pie or crumble
  • Added to a fresh fruit salad
  • Blended with other berries and frozen into a sorbet
  • Served with low fat Greek yoghurt
  • Sprinkled over pancakes, or added to the pancake batter.

Blueberry Pancakes

  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • ¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup self-raising flour
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • ½ cup blueberries
  1.  In a bowl, whisk together the egg and castor sugar.
  2. Sift together the self raising flour and bicarbonate of soda.
  3. Melt butter and leave cool.
  4. Slowly add the flour and buttermilk alternately to the egg and sugar mix.
  5. Then whisk in the cooled melted butter and stir in the blueberries.
  6. Place tablespoons of batter into a greased frypan on medium heat.
  7. Serve warm pancakes with butter and maple syrup.

Serves 4.

Note: Alternatively, other ingredients such as diced apple and cinnamon or chocolate chips can used instead of blueberries.

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Heavenly Camembert

There aren’t many cheeses that are as heavenly, soft, rich and creamy as Camembert cheese – besides Brie of course.

People often can’t tell the difference between Brie and Camembert.

The irony is that there isn’t actually much of a difference.

They were both originally made by monks – just in different regions of France.

Camembert is classified as a soft-rind cow’s milk cheese.

It has a velvety, white mould rind with a pale yellow interior.

As the cheese ripens the creamy smooth pâté bulges.

Camembert originates from France were it has been mass-produced for decades.

However, in recent years many countries have developed a variety of very good farmhouse varieties of Camembert, which are extremely popular and are readily available.

Camembert should be stored in the refrigerator, about 4 degrees Celsius (39 degrees Farenheit ) and wrapped in wax paper, not cling film.

If it is a little unripe then it should be purchased a few days before eating.

Always serve Camembert at room temperature, so take it out of the fridge a couple of hours before serving.

On a cheese board, accompany with strawberries, muscatels or fresh slices of pear and plain crusty bread.

Turkey Camembert and Cranberry Quiche

  • 1 x 17cm flan tin lined with short pastry
  • 100g Camembert cheese, sliced
  • 100g roast turkey, diced
  • 60g craberry sauce
  • 2 egggs
  • 150ml milk
  • 50ml cream
  • pinch of nutmeg ground
  • salt and pepper
  1. Inside the lined flan tin, place the Camembert slices, roast turkey and randomly dollop on cranberry sauce.
  2. Make savoury custard by whisking together eggs, milk,  cream and the season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  3. Carefully pour the custard into the prepared quiche shell.
  4. Bake at 180 degrees Celsius for about 30 minutes or until set.
  5. Serve with a simple garden fresh salad.

Serves 4.

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Holy Passionfruit

The passionfruit is an elongated oval or round fruit which originates from Central America.

The two most common varieties are – the yellow or purple kind.

The name ‘Passion’ is not referring to love.

The fruit is named after its flower, which is in fact a reference to the Passion of Christ, on the Crucifix.

Centuries ago, Spanish priests adopted the passion flower as a symbol of Crucifixion.

The outer layer, made of 72 colourful, fine petals represents the Crown of Thorns; the 10 larger petals represent Christ’s faithful apostles (Judas appears to have fallen off the passion fruit vine).

There are 3 stigma which symbolize the nails (of the Crucifix) and the 5 lower stamen signify the wounds of Christ.

And, the vines of the plant where seen as whips. Quite amazing really!

When buying passionfruit, its best to choose fruits that feel rather heavy for their size.

Passionfruit can be stored out of the fridge for up to two weeks or refrigerated for up to a month. Store them in plastic bags so they don’t dry-out.

If you won’t be able to use them all up, the pulp freezes really well.

And, contrary to popular belief, passionfruit does not have to be wrinkled to be considered ripe.

Passionfruit are also easy to grow at home, they just need a fence or structure to grow on.

Although they generally have a sweet, perfumed taste, passionfruit are often tart and are a great accompaniment to sweet desserts, such as Pavlova or sponge cakes.

I’ve also made curds and jams with them.

However, the easiest preparation is to cut them in half and scoop the passionfruit pulp straight into your mouth.

Pumpkin and Passionfruit Soup

It might sound like chalk and cheese – but it’s actually a gem of a recipe, and you’ll love it.

  • 750g pumpkin
  • 15g butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 rashers of bacon, diced
  • 100g potato, diced
  • 50g carrots
  • 50g celery
  • 1 Lt chicken stock
  • 6 passionfruits, pulped
  • salt and pepper
  • 250ml cream.
  1. Peel the pumpkin, remove the seeds and chop into smallish pieces.
  2. Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan.
  3. Add the onion and bacon and cook, stirring regularly, until onion is soft.
  4. Add the pumpkin, potato, carrot, celery and the stock.
  5.  Bring to the boil and simmer for about half an hour or so, until the pumpkin is really soft.
  6. Remove from the heat and let the soup cool down, the add the passionfruit pulp.
  7. Process it in batches in a blender. Pour it back into the saucepan, season to taste and stir in the cream. Reheat it to serve.

Serves 4.

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The King Of Spice

Picture of pepperI’m a pepper fanatic. By my estimate, it’s the King of all spices.

It has been said, that in the history of the spice trade, no other spice had such an impact on early exploration, commerce, different cultures and their cuisines.

During the European Middle Ages, pepper was like black gold and considered as valuable as money.

Landlords would accept pepper as rent payments. Hence the term ‘peppercorn rent’, which for some reason means the opposite these days (cheap, like my first apartment).

Pepper is the dried berry obtained from a climbing vine, originating from Asia.

Black, green and white peppercorns are the exact same berry, but picked at different stages of development or processed differently.

Cayenne and red pepper are from a completely different source, originally used as a substitute, to the once expensive peppercorn.

The spiciness comes from an alkaloid called piperine.

White peppercorns have had the husk removed; therefore they contain less of the piperine flavour.

Pepper is at its best, freshly milled, when you require it because factory ground pepper goes stale quickly.

Peppered Calamari

  • Clean and slice squid tubes into 2cm thick rings.
  • Combine a cup of plain flour, 1 teaspoon of freshly milled black peppercorns and a teaspoon of red chili powder.
  • Toss the calamari rings through the flour mix.
  • Heat vegetable oil in a wok until lightly smoking and then add the calamari rings.
  • Cook for approximately 1 minute, add 1 teaspoon of thinly sliced red chili and remove from wok.
  • Place on absorbent kitchen paper to remove any excess oil. Serve on garden salad with fresh limejuice.
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Dreams of Chocolate

Picture of chocolateChocolate is produced from the cacao bean, a large pod found on the cacao tree.

Cacao trees originated in South America, but are now grown and harvested in Africa, the Far East and the West Indies.

Both the pulp and the beans obtained from the pods are fermented in the sun. After the pulp evaporates, the beans take on some of their chocolate flavour.

The outer skin is removed and the beans are dried and roasted.

The shell of the bean is removed and it is the kernel that is then processed into the thick cocoa solids, which makes the basis of chocolate.

True chocolate is called couverture, containing cocoa butter (pure cocoa fat).

Although professional chefs prefer the fine eating quality of couverture, it requires a specialist tempering process before it can be used.

Therefore most chocolate manufacturers replace the cocoa butter with vegetable fat. This produces convenient compound cooking chocolate, for ease of use.

Dreamy Chocolate Mousse

  • 250g dark chocolate, grated
  • 100mls milk
  • 150g caster sugar
  • 2 tbsp cold water
  • 1 tbsp gelatine powder
  • 2 tbsp booze (like rum or cointrea etc) optional
  • 700ml cream, lightly whipped
  1. Place the grated chocolate, milk and sugar in a pan.
  2. Heat the mixture gently to a dissolved, smooth consistency.
  3. Add water to gelatine and warm in the microwave until dissolved, than add to the chocolate mixture.
  4. At this stage you could add a nip or two of your favourite booze (like rum or cointrea etc).
  5. Allow mixture to cool slightly and just before setting point, fold in cream.
  6. Pour into moulds or just into attractive glasses.
  7. Allow to set in the refrigerator before decorating with sweetened cream and fresh strawberries

Serves 10.

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Beautiful Butter

Picture of butterIt is often stated that the three secrets of French cuisine are: butter, butter and butter.

As a chef who trained in the classical French style of cookery, I can confirm this statement as ‘mostly true’.

Before I go any further, I will provide a disclaimer – I don’t encourage the excessive consumption of butter.

And, I won’t get into the dietary debate over replacing butter with margarine. Personally, I hate margarine, and I absolutely love butter (but that’s just me).

However, the growth in margarine consumption has led to a generation of people who may not know the beauty of butter or even understand how it is produced.

Butter could be briefly defined as a dairy product made by churning (cow’s milk) cream, to separate the butterfat from the buttermilk.

The watery buttermilk is a by-product that has further culinary use, while the yellow coloured butterfat (often with added salt) is compressed into blocks of butter.

In fact, you can make it yourself by over-whipping fresh cream. Margarine on the other-hand is not made of dairy, is often made of many ingredients and coloured with yellow food colouring to make it look like butter.

Butter is solidified when refrigerated, becomes smooth and spreadable at room temperature, and melts to a thin liquid when heated.

Butter can be used as a spread (such as garlic butter), used as a frying medium (for crumbed foods, or used as a sauce (such as lemon butter on grilled fish).

Butter is also used to enrich bakery products.

Even in a health conscious era, butter has a proud and celebrated history in many cultures, and I think it’s a beautiful and natural ingredient.

Salted Butterscotch Sauce

One of my favorite winter warmer recipes is this rich, decadent butter enriched sauce.

It’s incredibly easy to make and can be served with almost any dessert, such as sticky date pudding, deep fried ice-cream or bread and butter pudding.

  •  200ml cream
  • 180g brown sugar
  • 70g butter, unsalted
  • 15ml, vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  1. Combine the cream, sugar and butter in a saucepan and heat until it starts to boil.
  2. Remove from the heat and whisk until completely emulsified.
  3. At this stage you could add a dash of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt for depth of flavour.

Note: For an interesting twist, stir in a couple of spoons of peanut butter – yum!

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Pick Of The Bunch

Picture of grapes

I once heard a comedian joke that grapes always give you a second chance. If you bite into a bad apple, you are stuck with a bad apple. However, if you come across a bad grape, no problem, just move on to the next.

Humans have cultivated grapes for thousands of years. The Romans, Greeks and Egyptians were the world’s earliest cultivators of the fruit.

The grape grows in clustered bunches on a woody vine.

Grapes are generally broken into two main groups: white, which are often a pale yellow-green colour, and the black range that vary from pink, to bright red or deep purple.

Many are suitable as ‘table or eating’ grapes (thin skin, low acid, plump and juicy) while others are more suited to wine production, juicing or drying. Wine grapes are often described as having a musky flavour, and can be coated in a natural powdery ‘bloom’.

Some grapes contain large seeds, which many people (such as my daughter) find off-putting, while other varieties are virtually seedless.

They are healthy, containing Vitamin C and small amounts of other vitamins, minerals and fibre.

When purchasing grapes, look for plump, firm and colourful fruit, firmly attached to a healthy green stem.

Some interesting grape facts:

– There are at least 8000 grape species from over 60 different varieties.

– It can take between 600 t0 800 grapes to make one bottle of wine

– They are in fact classified as a berry

– Sultanas, currents and raisins are dried grapes

– The world’s oldest known grape vine is in Slovenia and is believed to have lived for over 400 hundred years.

– Grape wine has been produced by humans for 5000 years

 Smoked chicken, grape and walnut salad

  •  400g smoked chicken, cut into pieces
  • 400g white seedless grapes, halved
  • 300g red apples, cored and diced
  • 25ml lemon juice
  • 150g celery, diced
  • 100ml sour cream
  • 100ml Greek yoghurt
  • salt and pepper
  • 100g  walnut, chopped
  1. Toss the apples with lemon juice to prevent them from discolouring.
  2. Add chicken, grapes and celery.
  3. Carefully mix in sour cream and yoghurt.
  4. Season with salt and white pepper to taste.
  5. Before serving, sprinkle walnuts on top.

Serves 4.

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Mussel Bound

Picture of musselsOne of my favourite shellfish is the mussel.

Mussels are classified as a bi-valve mollusc. This means they have two shells that are joined together with a strong muscle – much like clams and pipis (or a flip phone).

They grow in clusters around rocks, jetties and other objects that lay in the sea. They grip to rocks with long silky threads called byssus, which look like a biker’s goatee beard protruding from the opening of the shell.

There are many varieties of mussels grown around the world, however the most common sold in Australia are the New Zealand green-lipped mussels, the Australian blue mussels, and black mussels.

Most of the mussels sold are farmed, as they are more consistent in quality and safer.

Wild mussels have been known to contain toxins as they are bottom filter-feeders that draw in water (which can be contaminated).

The female mussel has a bright orange flesh and the male mussel has a (boring) creamy white flesh.

My preference is to buy fresh live mussels, which can be a little difficult to obtain so I generally have to settle for frozen.

But if I do get hold of live mussels, here is the simple – but beautiful – recipe I use:

White Wine Mussels

  •  50ml     olive oil
  • 50g      carrots, finely diced
  • 50g      celery, finely diced
  • 50g      onions, finely diced
  • 200ml   dry white wine
  • 24        whole fresh mussels
  • Tsp      chopped parsley
  •             salt and pepper
  •             a knob of butter
  1. In a saucepan, heat the olive oil.
  2. Add the finely chopped carrot, celery and onions, and then gently cook until tender.
  3. Add the dry white wine and bring to the boil.
  4. Add the fresh whole mussels (still in the closed shell) and cover with a lid.
  5. After cooking for 5 minutes on a high heat, the mussels should be cooked and the shells popped open.
  6. Remove the mussels from the pan and keep the juices boiling on the stove.
  7. Add the chopped fresh parsley, salt and pepper, a knob of butter and then pour over the mussels.

Note: Remove any beards or barnacles from the mussels prior to cooking.

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Look Sharp

Picture of kitchen knives

Besides your hands, knives are the most commonly used tools in the kitchen.

As a chef, I’ve had many an altercation with knives, they have been both my greatest ally and most dangerous foe.

Simply put, knives and hands don’t always get along. Knives can be hazardous.

To prevent unnecessary kitchen bloodshed, always remember:

– Never test the sharpness of a knife by running your finger along or across the edge. It’s safer to test it on tomato skin etc.

– Never leave a knife in a sink full of water, as other people can’t see it below the soapsuds. wash up your dirty knives immediately and store them away.

– When not in use, store knives in a knife block, on a magnetic strip or in sheaths, not loosely in a draw, and keep out of reach from young children.

– Don’t use a knife with a greasy handle; clean the handle or the knife may slip out of your hand.

– Don’t run with a knife, walk calmly with the knife down by your side and not waving around.

– A sharp knife is safer than a blunt one as you apply less pressure when cutting and are less likely to slip. Also, an injury from a sharp knife is cleaner and likely to heal quicker. I remember a Japanese sushi chef cutting his thumb to the bone, filleting tuna. He always kept his knives razor sharp and the wound healed without stitches in a matter of days. (Don’t try it at home kids).

Easy tomato and basil pasta sauce

This recipe may be simple, but it’s a great way to practice your knife skills. Take you time, work at your own pace and watch your fingers.

  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
  • 1 tspn brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp basil, chopped
  • 250g pasta, freshly cooked
  1. In a fry pan, heat olive oil and gently cook the garlic.
  2. Add tomatoes and brown sugar.
  3. Gently simmer for approximately 30 minutes (stirring frequently) until thickened.
  4. Add  finely chopped fresh basil; then season with salt and pepper.
  5. Toss the tomato basil sauce with some freshly cooked pasta.
  6. It could also be topped with pieces feta or grated parmesan cheese.

Serves 2.

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