Saturday, June 30, 2012

A Winter Salad - and a very food-centric week!

The past 7 days has been quite food focused here at Gourmet Goddess headquarters, and a real mixed bag. We began by doing something completely new - attending a themed "Six Degress of Preparation" dinner early in the week, indulged in some late night Hawker delights in Chinatown - one of our favourites -  and ended the week with the Good Food and Wine Show in Sydney on Friday.

When I came across the Six Degrees of Preparation people whilst checking out some other food related sites on the internet, I thought it sounded like a great idea - smallish 6 course dinners, built around one ingredient each time, showcasing that ingredient. I noticed that the next scheduled dinner was themed around one of my favourite ingredients - pomegranate. I thought it was really worth checking out, so bought our tickets and looked forward to seeing what it was all about.

The venue - Effendy Restaurant in Balmain - was really lovely, but sadly the food was a real letdown. It wasn't bad, just very average. I was expecting a real celebration of all things pomegranate, but the flavours were just not there. The creativity I had hoped for was missing and the presentation let it down badly too. Also, the servings were more "tastes", and we were both starving. Did I mention we were forced to wear name tags, so we could "mingle"? Awkward. Needless to say we made an early exit before dessert was served and headed to our absolute favourite late night food haunt in Chinatown - Mamak. Now those folks really know about flavour.

Mamak specialise in authentic roti and satay that tastes like it just came from a hawker stall in Singapore or Kuala Lumpur - and a real favourite of ours. Not only is it delicious, it is ridiculously cheap and of the best quality and freshness. There is a good reason they often have queues out the door! (alas, they take no reservations) You can find them at 15 Goulburn Street, Haymarket -  and praise the Goddess! On weekends, they stay open for supper until 2am. They also have a restuarant in Chatswood, which I haven't visited. To get more information on the joys of Mamak, head to their website:  Highly recommended, and well worth the hassle of trying to park in the city.

Friday saw us head to the annual Good Food and Wine Show. We always elect to take a day off and go first thing on the Friday to beat the massive crowds, as during the weekend it becomes completely chaotic - teeming with people and shopping carts and prams and squealing tots having tantrums and slow walkers and AAAGGHHH!!!! .....well, you get the picture! Bedlam. The show is worth a visit though and we always come away with a few goodies for our trouble - this time we brought home 4 great cheeses, all from the Hunter Valley (including a gorgeous aged goat's cheese I have used in today's recipe), duck breasts, a stash of beautiful Careme brand pastry, a selction of Beerenburg sauces, a couple of kilos of lovely crunchy "Jazz" apples, some organic muesli and snack bars and lots of samples of this and that.

I noticed that this year, a lot of my favouite stallholders were not there and big supermarket brands and all things Masterchef related seemed to dominate. A real shame, given that in my opinion,  the whole reason to go to these sorts of shows is to be exposed to new ingredients, suppliers, techniques and products. We did have a fun day regardless though - and lived on delicious cheese for the rest of the weekend! I did however keep a little aside.....

Which brings me to today's recipe - a gorgeous winter salad, bursting with colour, texture and layers of great winter flavours. I used a strong rich goat cheese - an aged chevre from Wyandra - and some baby beetroot as the inspiration for today's lunch. The beetroot is cooked twice with onions, creating a rich, sweet, caramelised taste that is a perfect companion for the goat cheese. I chose 2 different lettuces - red oak and spiky green endive, some smoky, crispy bacon, nutty chickpeas - and to top it off, a sweet/tangy dressing made with a base of delicious hazelnut oil and balsamic. This salad is substantial enough to serve as a main meal - toasted rustic bread would be a great addition. If you really aren't keen on goat cheese, feta cheese would be a good substitute.

Apart from the initial prep for the beetroot, it is quick to make and a real delight to eat - the perfect winter salad. Enjoy!

Winter Beetroot, Bacon and Chickpea Salad
with Aged Goat Cheese

You will need: A bunch of smallish sized beetroot, 2 cups cooked well drained chickpeas, 1 large red onion, about 4 cups of lettuce leaves (I used red oak and green endive), 50g goat cheese (I used an aged Chevre), 3 slices bacon, splash of olive oil, 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

For the dressing: 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 or 2 tablespoons warm water, salt and pepper.

Method: First, take the beetroot and remove the stalks and the leaves. Place them in a pot of boiling water and allow them to simmer until tender - about 20 minutes. Rinse them under cold water and remove the skins - they will come away very easily.

 Preheat the oven to 220C. Cut the beetroot into quarters and place in a small overproof dish or baking tray. Peel and quarter the onion and add this to the dish, with a generous seasoning of salt and pepper, the balsamic and a splash of olive oil. Bake the beetroot and onion, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. Remove and allow to cool a little.

While the beetroot is cooling, roughly chop the bacon and pan fry until crispy.

Next, make the dressing - whisk all of the dressing ingredients together until well combined. Set aside.

To assemble the salad, arrange layers of lettuce, beetroot mixture, bacon and chickpeas onto the plates. Top with the goat's cheese (you can crumble it over the top if you are using young goat's cheese or slice it like I did if you are using an aged, richer variety) Drizzle over some of the dressing and serve right away.

Serves 2-4 people.


Thursday, June 14, 2012

Baking Bliss

This week has been rather exciting in the Gourmet Goddess kitchen, as we took delivery of a new fan forced oven to replace the evil, contankerous old beast that I have been cooking with since we moved into our house almost two years ago. I have to admit I was pretty happy to see the demise of the old one, which had a penchant for cremating the bottom of whatever you put in it, whilst leaving the top of everything unpalatably raw. I don't really bake much at the best of times, but the crappy oven really didn't make me want to change that situation!

Well, I am very happy to report that the new oven is a whole other world - one where things cook as they are meant to and your pastry ends up golden and puffed (and cooked evenly!) just like it should. Hell, I may even be tempted to bake a cake - or Goddess forbid - a meringue! Watch this space.

So, my first oven baking experiment was a couple of simple apple, almond and nashi pear tarts. The golden tarts are given a lovely sweetness and glossy finish by an easy maple syrup glaze.

You could actually use any kind of fruit for these - apricots, peaches or nectarines when in season would be gorgeous - cherries, berries or quinces would work a treat too. I used apples and nashi pears because they happened to be in the fruit bowl at the time. Whatever fruit you decide to use,  the result is a delicious, easy to make tart that looks lovely too. This style of tart reminded me a lot of the apple galettes that you would always see in the patisseries around Paris. I confess I enjoyed a slice of mine with a nice big milky Cafe au Lait, and a generous serve of nostaligia -  imagining I was back, sitting in a cafe in St Germain on my honeymoon watching the world go by. Food is always so evocative of past memories and this one really did that for me.

Maple Glazed Apple and Nashi Pear Tarts

You will need: 2 sheets ready rolled puff pastry, 2-3 apples or nashi pears (I used some of both), 1 1/2 cups almond meal, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 tablespoons warm water, 30g melted salted butter, 1/3 cup maple syrup, 1 beaten egg.

Method: Preheat the oven to 200C.

Peel and core the apples/nashi pears, cut them in half and slice them thinly. In a bowl, combine the almond meal, vanilla, brown sugar, melted butter and warm water. Mix well to make an easily spreadable paste. Add a little more warm water if the mixture is a little too firm.

Take the two sheets of pastry and cut them in half, lengthways. You should now have four lengths of pastry of equal size. Take two of the pastry sheets and cut a border into them, about 2 cm wide, removing the pastry in the middle. You will be left with two "frames"made of pastry.

Brush the other two peices of whole pastry with a little of the egg. Carefully lay one of the "frames" onto each of the pastry peices. Press the edges down gently. Now evenly spread half of the almond mixture onto each of the tarts, smoothing it up to the edge of the border you have created.

Take the sliced apple/nashi pears and carefully arrange the slices, so that they slightly overlap, until you have covered the tarts. Brush the edges of the pastry with a little bit of the egg wash.

Bake the tarts for 15-20 minutes until they are lightly golden. Remove them from the oven and using half of the mixture, brush the top of the tarts with the maple syrup. Return to the oven for another 5-10 minutes until they turn a deeper golden colour.

Remove the tarts from the oven, and while they are still warm, brush the remaining maple syrup over them.
Serve warm or cold. Makes two medium sized tarts.


Sunday, June 10, 2012

Winter Sunshine

As most of you would be aware, each week the Gourmet Goddess kitchen receives a delivery of local, organic and chemical free produce from the fabulous folks at Food Connect in Sydney. One of the great things about this, apart from the first rate, ethical produce - is that they often include seasonal vegetables or fruit that are not terribly common on most dinner tables. This was one of those weeks. Amongst the cornucopia of seasonal produce was a stash of freshly dug Jerusalem artichokes - dirt still attached. At first glance I thought they were ginger roots, but I was thrilled when I realised that they were in fact the first Jerusalem artichoke crop of the winter.

Native to the eastern part of North America, also called sunroot or earth apple, the Jerusalem artichoke is in fact not an artichoke at all. It is actually a tuber vegetable related to the sunflower and does not resemble the well known green globe artichokes in any way, either in looks or in taste. So if you started reading this post and immediately thought - "Ick. I hate artichokes" - don't despair. These are artichokes in name only. Just to confuse things, they also have absolutely nothing to do with Jerusalem. So the name is not only 100% misleading, it is also geographically incorrect. On top of the identity crisis, they are also - let's be frank here -pretty damned ugly looking. Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk flavour. Nutty, slightly creamy and delicious, these gorgeous winter vegetables taste great roasted', fried into crispy chips or pureed with potatoes for a beautiful tasting mash. Because they are in season at the moment, now really is the time to enjoy them at their best.

Jerusalem Artichokes
- not an artichoke and not from Jerusalem.
Go figure.

Today, I decided to team them with fresh seasonal cauliflower and create a creamy winter soup. These flavours work in perfect harmony and make a change from the usual repertoire of winter soups. This soup is not only great served in a rustic style with a hunk of freshly baked bread, it is also perfect all dressed up, as part of a dinner party or degustation menu.

Cauliflower and Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

So, give these mis-named, not so pretty winter vegetables a try. They are absolutely delicious - however you choose to cook them -  and will become part of many a winter menu once you discover their inner beauty. It's cold outside - let this relative of the sunflower bring some winter sunshine in!

You will need: 2 large brown onions, 2 large peeled potatoes, 1/2 cauliflower, about 400g jerusalem artichokes, 3 cloves garlic, 6 cups chicken or vegetable stock, 1/2 cup milk (if you want something really sumptuous, use cream), 1 apple, 1/2 cup flaked almonds, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt, pepper, pinch of cayenne pepper, parsley or chives and a drizzle of fruity olive oil to serve.

Method: Scrub the artichokes to clean any dirt off them - you do not need to peel them. Cut the cauliflower into florets. Roughly chop the onion, potato and artichokes into generous chunks. Roughly chop the garlic.

Heat the olive oil in a pot and add the onion. Cook it gently for about 5 minutes until it starts to soften. Add the garlic and the artichokes and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Add the potato and the cauliflower, season generously with salt and pepper, add the pinch of cayenne and allow to cook for another 5 minutes.

Add the chicken stock. Bring the mixture to the boil and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are very soft. Remove from the heat and blend the mixture until smooth with a hand blender or food processor. Add the milk (or cream) and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as required.

When you are ready to serve, spoon the soup into bowls and top with a little of the parsley or chives. Drizzle with olive oil and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4-6 people


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Middle Eastern Inspiration

In winter, I really love to eat food that is full of warm, aromatic and earthy flavours - and today's dish has this in spades. I have used a fragrant and warming middle eastern inspired spice mix to flavour frenched lamb cutlets, and added to this beautiful seasonal roasted vegetables, fresh herbs and seeds from one of my favourite fruits, the pomegranate. To top it off, a perfectly balanced sweet and slightly piquant dressing.

This dish is also my first experiement with using quinoa, that superfood favoured by the Incas and popping up on menus everywhere these days. It really seems to be the ingredient de jour, particularly amongst my vegetarian mates. I decided it was about time I gave it a try, so I included it in my lamb dish in place of the cracked wheat or cous cous I would normally use. I really loved the slight chewiness to the grain and the nutty taste. By all accounts it is also incredibly good for you - there is a reason the Incas called it the "mother of all grain"

This dish is really big on flavour, and although there are a few components, it is actually really easy. It really is worth hunting down fresh pomegranate if you can find it - the little bursts of juicy jewel coloured seeds are just beautiful, as well as looking fabulous on the plate.

There are potentially heaps of variations you could try with this recipe - try whatever veges are in season that you like - eggplant, squash, asparagus, sweet potato would all be great. If you are a vego, leave out the lamb and make the vegetable component as a dish in itself, along with the dressing. I was also thinking that chicken thighs or even fish or prawns would work well too. Toasted almonds or pistachios would also add another texture and flavour dimension.

This dish would be lovely served on a big platter as part of a shared, buffet style meal, even at a BBQ. You will fall in love with the middle eastern influenced flavours and the delightfully varied textures.


Middle Eastern Lamb Cutlets
with quinoa, roasted vegetables and fresh pomegranate

You will need:
(For the lamb) 6-8 Frenched lamb cutlets, 1 teaspoon sumac, 2 teaspoons ground coriander, pinch cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon mild paprika, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon warm water, salt and pepper.

(For the vegetables) 2 cups cooked quinoa, about 6 cups assorted raw vegetables cut into chunks about 3cm square (I used red capsicum, pumpkin, zucchini, red onion), 1 cup sliced cooked green beans,1 tablespoon olive oil, 1/2 cup fresh pomegranate seeds, 1/2 cup fresh parsley, 1/2 cup deseeded sliced olives, salt and pepper.

(For the dressing) 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon pomegranate balsamic (use plain balsamic if you can't find this), 1 clove minced fresh garlic, 1 tablespoon maple syrup, 1 tablespoon warm water, generous pinch of salt, pepper.

Preheat the oven to 220C.

Combine the sumac, coriander, paprika, olive oil, cayenne, water and salt and pepper to make a paste. Rub the paste into the lamb cutlets and set aside to marinate.

Whisk together the dressing ingredients and set aside at room temperature until you are ready to serve.

Combine the chunks of vegetables with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Place the vegetables on a baking tray and bake for around 30 minutes, until they are well cooked.

Heat a grill pan (or BBQ) and cook the lamb cutlets - they will not take very long (about 5 minutes), so keep an eye on them so that they are not overcooked. Ideally, they should be a little pink in the middle. Set the cutlets aside to rest.

While the cutlets are resting, gently mix the quinoa, roasted vegetables, green beans, parsely, olives and half of the pomegranate seeds all together in a large bowl.

To serve, place a few generous spoonfuls of the vegetable mixture on the plate, top with the cutlets and then drizzle over a little of the dressing. Add the remaining pomegranate seeds and serve.

Serves 2 - 4 People