food for thought

by michelle

almond and strawberry trifle

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On the first Tuesday of November, everything in Australia (and particularly Melbourne) stops for the Melbourne Cup, a prestigious annual thoroughbred horse race. Everyone dresses up for the occasion and hats or fascinators are almost compulsory. For those who don’t go to the races it’s a great excuse for a party, usually involving sweeps on the races of the day. This dessert was perfect for our Spring Carnival celebrations. Easy to make ahead and transport and a perfect combination of decadence and freshness.

Take an 8″ (20cm) square pound or madeira cake and cut it into thin slices, leaving them out to dry for an hour or two. Meanwhile make your custard. Whisk 3 tablespoons of sugar, 1½ tablespoons of cornflour (cornstarch) and 3 egg yolks in a medium saucepan. Carefully whisk in 2½ cups of milk in a thin stream. Cook, stirring constantly, over medium heat until the custard thickens. Remove from the heat, whisk in 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and allow it to cool. Meanwhile mix strawberry jam with lemon juice to taste. This cuts the sweetness and makes it a little thinner and easier to spread. When you’re ready to assemble, spread the jam onto ⅔ of the cake slices and make triple sandwiches. Cut the sandwiches into cubes and arrange or scatter them into your serving bowl. Coarsely crumble 1 cup of amaretti biscuits and scatter them amongst the pieces of cake. Drizzle with 1 cup of Marsala and then pour the cooled custard over everything. Now whip 2 cups of cold whipping cream until soft peaks form. Add 3 tablespoons of powdered sugar and continue to whip until stiff. Pipe or spoon the cream onto the trifle. Cover and chill at least overnight or up to 3 days. When you’re ready to serve decorate the trifle with a lot of fresh strawberries and some toasted sliced almonds.

*adapted from a recipe in The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins.


Written by michelle picker

December 13, 2017 at 12:08 am

lobster tail

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Here’s a simple and delicious treat for a luxurious lunch. Christmas, perhaps?

Trim the lobster tails and cut down the middle of the inside with a pair of chicken shears. Now, with a heavy knife, cut through the middle of the tail just enough to allow it to open and still stay connected. Season with a generous amount of salt and freshly ground black pepper. When you’re ready to cook, heat a pan to medium, add a little olive oil and place the lobster tails in – shell side down. Cook for a few minutes (this will depend on size) until the shell is quite pink. Now add a good amount of butter and turn the lobster tails over. Cook for a few minutes more, allowing them to colour a little. Serve with a fresh green salad and a chilled white wine.

Written by michelle picker

December 6, 2017 at 12:18 am

ribeye roast with mustard and horseradish sauce

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Succulent beef, roast vegetables and a delicious sauce. Who could ask for more?

To improve the crust on your ribeye roast, allow it to air-dry, uncovered, on a rack in the fridge overnight. Season it generously with salt and pepper on all sides – seasoning with salt up to a day in advance helps the seasoning penetrate the meat. Preheat your oven to121°C (250°F). Place the prepared roast on a rack in a roast pan with the fat cap facing upwards and cook until the centre of the roast registers 52°C (125°F) on an instant-read thermometer for medium-rare or 57°C (135°F) for medium. This could take up to 4 or 5 hours. Remove it from the oven to a large plate, tent it loosely with aluminium foil and allow it to rest. Meanwhile increase the oven temperature to the highest possible setting. Wipe out the roasting pan and replace the rack. Remove the foil from prime rib and place it back on the rack with fat cap facing upwards and cook for 6 to 10 minutes or until well browned and crisp on the outside. To make the sauce, fry a very finely diced onion in some olive oil over low heat until wilted and caramelised. Sprinkle with a little flour and allow it to cook a little more. Add ½ a cup of red wine and 1 cup of good beef stock and cook until thickeniong and reduced to half or less. Now add 1 tablespoon of seeded Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon of grated horseradish, a dash of Worcestershire sauce, plenty of freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste. To finish, add some butter and stir through for a delicious glossy sauce.

* this roasting method comes from Serious Eats.

Written by michelle picker

November 29, 2017 at 12:22 am

Posted in recipe


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I was researching sous vide cooking when I came upon some information on Serious Eats about tempering chocolate by that method. I had to try it. It was certainly easy but not absolutely necessary, as you can see in Three Ways to Temper Chocolate. My first attempt was nice and crunchy, melted nicely in the mouth and had a good shine.

My moulds were small round silicone ones and I painted the chocolate in with a brush which was not too wasteful and worked well. I decided on two different fillings. For the first I soaked dried cherries in vodka for a day or two and then added some shredded coconut. The cherries were quite sour and needed some sugar. The second filling was made from natural salted crunchy peanut butter, sweetened a little with powdered sugar and watered down to a good consistency. When the chocolate shells were set, I heated a small frypan and used the bottom to melt the first half of each chocolate flat. When I’d mounded in as much filling as I could I melted the second half and stuck the halves together. The only problem was that the chocolates were a little too large, if that’s a problem!

Written by michelle picker

November 22, 2017 at 12:19 am

sichuan braised eggplant

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The province of Sichuan (Szechuan) in southwestern China has a bold, pungent and spicy cuisine. It’s known for it’s liberal use of garlic, chillies, vinegar and sichuan pepper. Here’s a great example of Sichuan braised eggplant from Serious Eats.

Trim ¾ kg (1½ lbs) of small Asian eggplants and cut them into quarters lengthwise then into 10cm (4″) lengths. Pour 2 litres (2 quarts) of water into a bowl and add ½ a cup of kosher salt. Add the eggplant pieces, skin-side up, and soak for 10 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, slice 2 birds-eye chillies and place them in a small bowl. Heat 3 tablespoons of white or rice wine vinegar in a small saucepan until simmering and pour it over the chillies, allowing it to steep for 5 minutes before adding 2 tablespoons of Shaoxing wine, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 teaspoons of soy sauce and 1 tablespoon of Chinkiang vinegar (if you can’t get this use a cheap balsamic vinegar). When completely cool add 1¼ teaspoons of cornflour (cornstarch) and stir until dissolved. Set this sauce aside. Now drain the eggplant, pat dry with paper towels and set aside. Finely mince 4 teaspoons of fresh ginger and 4 cloves of garlic and slice 4 spring onions (scallions), the white part thinly and the green part into longer pieces. Roughly chop some coriander (cilantro) for garnish. When you’re ready to cook, make sure you have all the prepared ingredients ready as well as some Doubanjiang (a chilli and bean paste available from Asian grocery stores). Heat 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a wok over high heat until smoking. Reduce the heat to medium and add the eggplant. Cook until softened and well browned on all sides. Push it to the sides of the wok, turn up the heat and add the ginger, garlic, and scallions. Cook for about 30 seconds until fragrant then add 2 tablespoons of Doubanjiang and cook for a further 30 seconds. Stir the chilli sauce you prepared earlier and add it as well. Now toss and continue to cook for 1-3 minutes until the sauce is thick and glossy and is coating the eggplant pieces. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the coriander (cilantro). Serve hot with steamed rice or as part of a banquet with other Sichuan dishes.

Written by michelle picker

November 15, 2017 at 12:10 am

slow-roasted lamb shoulder

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Iranian in style, this fragrant slow-roasted lamb shoulder is easy to prepare and absolutely delicious. Serve it with rice and a fresh salad.

Preheat your oven to 160ºC (320ºF). Cut 3 onions into wedges and scatter them into a large roasting pan. Drizzle with olive oil and season to taste. Place the lamb shoulder on the onions. Coarsely crush 2 teaspoons each of toasted cumin and coriander seeds with a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a bowl and add 4 cloves of crushed garlic, 2 tablespoons of ground sumac, 1 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper, ½ a teaspoon each of ground cinnamon, cardamom and allspice, the grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and ½ a cup each of finely chopped fresh mint and coriander (cilantro). Combine well and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place this mixture on top of the (seasoned) lamb and pat into place to form a crust. Combine the juice of 1 lemon and 1 orange with 300ml (10 fl oz) of chicken stock. Pour this around the lamb shoulder and add 3 dried limes (available from Middle Eastern grocery stores). Cover the lamb shoulder and roast in the oven for 5-6 hours until very tender and falling from the bone.

*from a recipe by Emma Knowles and Alice Storey in Gourmet Traveller

Written by michelle picker

November 8, 2017 at 12:16 am

sour cream panna cotta with berries

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Cindy made this panna cotta (Italian for ‘cooked’cream’), the perfect dessert to follow our home-made pizzas. It’s a great make-ahead recipe that’s always elegant and delicious. She followed this recipe from Natasha’s Kitchen.

For the panna cotta pour 1 cup of milk into a saucepan and sprinkle with 2½ teaspoons of unflavoured gelatine powder. Allow the gelatine to soften for a few minutes then place the saucepan over low heat and, without boiling, stir until the gelatine dissolves. Now add 2 cups of whipping cream, ½ a cup plus 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and a pinch of salt. Continue stirring, still without boiling, until the sugar has dissolved. Allow this mixture to cool for a few minutes. In another bowl, whisk 1 cup of sour cream then, while whisking, pour in the warm cream mixture. When this mixture is smooth divide it into 6 – 8 glasses or ramekins and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or until fully set. For the berry sauce combine 1 cup of raspberries with 1 cup of halved strawberries. Place half of this mixture (1 cup) in a saucepan with ½ a tablespoon of lemon juice and 3 tablespoons of sugar. Bring to a simmer and cook until syrupy. Add the remaining berries and immediately remove from the heat. Allow the berries to cool completely before spooning them onto the chilled panna cottas to serve.

Written by michelle picker

November 1, 2017 at 12:12 am