food for thought

by michelle

rack of lamb + peas with feta and mint + roasted red peppers

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Rack of lamb coated with mustard, garlic and rosemary and blushing inside – classic but still fabulous.

Season each rack generously with salt and allow it to permeate for at least an hour. Meanwhile, crush some garlic with a mortar and pestle or a mini food processor and add plenty of fresh rosemary, some mustard of your choice, freshly ground black pepper and a little oil to make a paste. When you’re ready to cook, preheat your oven to 180º (350ºF). On the stovetop heat a large cast iron or heavy skillet, add some oil and brown the racks fat-side down for 5-10 minutes. Remove the racks to an oven tray with the browned surface facing up and coat all the meat with the mustard mixture. Roast for 15-20 minutes or, if you have a thermometer, until the temperature in the middle of the meat reaches 50ºC (120ºF). Remove the lamb from the oven, cover with foil and allow to rest for 10 minutes. During this time the temperature should continue to rise to a perfect medium-rare 55ºC (130ºF). Cut and serve either single or double chops.

As a side dish try these peas with feta and mint. Cook the peas in salted water until just cooked. Drain, place them in a bowl and add crumbled feta, plenty of fresh mint, freshly ground black pepper and a drizzle of good quality olive oil;

And these roasted red peppers. Simply slice into long strips, toss with salt, pepper and olive oil and roast in a hot oven until slightly charred.



Written by michelle picker

April 25, 2018 at 12:10 am

two desserts in one

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Lovingly prepared by Cindy after a Moroccan meal, this dessert combines Baclava-style nuts with a simple strawberry yoghurt. Morocco has it’s version of Baclava and strawberries and yoghurt are a no-brainer as Morocco is the 5th-largest exporter of strawberries in the world.

For the nuts, combine 2 cups of roughly chopped almonds, walnuts, pistachios and macadamia nuts (or just one or two types if you prefer) and toast them a little in a dry pan or in the oven. Place them in a bowl with some cinnamon to taste. Now make a honey syrup with ½ a cup of sugar, ½ a cup of honey, ½ a cup of water and 1½ tablespoons of lemon juice. Heat until boiling and then simmer for 5 minutes or so until thickening. Add the syrup to the nuts and stir to combine. Allow to cool. For the yoghurt, slice 1-2 cups of fresh strawberries and sprinkle them with a little sugar. Let them macerate for a while then add them to thick Greek-style yoghurt. Flavour the yoghurt with the seeds from a vanilla pod or 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water if you prefer. Serve together garnished with fresh mint.

Written by michelle picker

April 18, 2018 at 12:08 am

shiitake mushrooms

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Shiitake mushrooms are used widely in Asian cuisines and considered to have many health benefits. They are widely available in their dried form but are a little harder to find fresh, although Asian stores are a good place to try. We decided to attempt to grow them. This a lengthy procedure with some inherent difficulties for those of us living in urban areas. The first problem was finding living branches from a suitable tree. This took some time but we finally found some fairly large oak branches without any signs of fungus or mould. Shiitake are grown by drilling holes into the branches and hammering in dowels impregnated with the mushroom spores – we ordered these online. The holes are covered with beeswax and the logs then need to be kept damp and in a nice semi-dark place, similar to a forest floor. We waited approximately 18 months before we induced the first crop by soaking the logs for a day and then dropping them to shock them into fruiting. This can be done in Spring, Summer or Autumn. Hopefully they will now fruit twice a year. Although our first crop wasn’t very large it was exciting to finally see the mushrooms growing and they tasted amazing!

This recipe for a Chinese-style omelette is perfect for featuring shiitake mushrooms. Begin by slicing some medium to firm tofu and fry it in a little vegetable oil. Season with soy sauce and honey and set aside. Remove the stems from the mushrooms (Shiitake stems don’t soften when you cook them) and slice the mushrooms. Heat a pan and add some finely shredded ginger into the dry pan until it is fragrant. Add some sesame oil and the mushrooms, season with a minimal amount of salt and cook them until they are just softening. Add the tofu to reheat it along with some spring onions. Keep this mixture warm while you make the omelette. Whisk 3-4 eggs with a little water and a drop of sesame oil, and season them with soy sauce and white pepper. Heat a generous amount of vegetable oil in a wide frypan, add  the eggs and allow them to cook, without turning, until almost firm. Place the mushroom and tofu mix onto one half of the omelette and, using a wide turner, flip the other half over the top. When the omelette is cooked carefully slide it onto a serving plate and garnish with spring onions and toasted sesame seeds.

Written by michelle picker

April 11, 2018 at 12:33 am

miso chicken with grapes and walnuts

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Another unexpected and delicious combination of flavours in this recipe from (of course) Yotam Ottolenghi.

In a large bowl combine 80g (2¾oz) of white miso paste, 40g (1½oz) of finely grated ginger, 4 tablespoons of mirin (sweet cooking sake) and 4 tablespoons of cider vinegar. To this add 8 bone-in pieces of chicken and mix well. Cover and allow to marinate for a few hours or, ideally overnight in the fridge. Before cooking the chicken peel 12 small shallots, place them in a small saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and cook fo 5 minutes before straining, cooling and cutting them in half lengthways. Place the chicken pieces on a baking tray, skin-side up, with all the marinade and place under a hot grill for 10 minutes. Meanwhile heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a large pan and add the shallots, frying them on medium heat until golden brown. Add 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, briefly cook to reduce then pour in 200ml (7fl oz) of white wine, 6 tablespoons of water, ½ teaspoon of salt and some white pepper and continue to cook for about 6 minutes. Add the chicken and all its cooking juices and stir gently. Bring to a low simmer, cover and cook until the chicken is just cooked through. Remove the chicken pieces to a serving dish and keep them warm. To the remaining liquid add 125g (4½oz) of walnut pieces, 80g (2¾oz) of unsalted butter, 1½ tablespoons of maple syrup and 250g (9oz) of small seedless red grapes. Continue to cook and stir for a few minutes until the butter emulsifies. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Written by michelle picker

April 4, 2018 at 12:10 am

flourless mini chocolate cakes

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Another recipe from SWEET  by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh. We ate these delightful little cakes while they were still slightly warm. With a thin crispy crust, they were moist and light on the inside and had a wonderful deep chocolate flavour. The amazingly glossy chocolate ganache was not so easy to make but tasted great and looked amazing!

For the cakes preheat your oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and grease 12 muffin tins or mini bundt pans. Separate 5 large eggs, placing the whites in the bowl of a mixer. Over a double boiler melt 200g (7 oz) of dark 70% chocolate and 180g (6⅓ oz) of butter – the recipe stipulates unsalted butter but mine was salted. Whisk the mixture and when melted add 80g (2¾ oz) of caster sugar, 160g (5⅔ oz) of ground almond meal, the 5 egg yolks, 1 teaspoon of instant coffee dissolved in a teaspoon of boiling water and 5 teaspoons of Amaretto – I didn’t have any so I used Frangelico instead. Stir to combine. Now add a whisk attachment to your mixer and if you’ve used unsalted butter add ¼ of a teaspoon of salt to your egg whites. Beat on high speed until you have soft peaks. Continue to whisk while slowly adding 80g (2¾ oz) of caster sugar until the mixture is light and firm. Spoon a little into the chocolate to loosen the mixture then gently fold in the rest. Here the recipe suggests resting the mixture for an hour but as I was short of time I divided it into my muffin tins and baked it for 20 minutes, turning the tray after 10 minutes to ensure even baking. Depending on your oven efficiency they may take a few minutes longer. Cool them in the tins for 10 minutes before turning them out. For the ganache measure 85g (3 oz) of dark chocolate into a bowl. In a small saucepan over low to medium heat combine 35g (1¼ oz) each of caster sugar and liquid glucose. Stir to combine and when the sugar melts, increase the heat to medium and cook until it turns a pale amber colour. Remove from the heat and carefully pour in 60ml (2 fl oz) of water. If the mixture seizes return it to the heat and stir gently to dissolve. Add the scraped seeds of ½ a vanilla pod and stir through. Pour this caramel mixture over the chocolate, allowing it to sit for 5 minutes then whisk to combine. While whisking add 35g (1¼ oz) of room temperature butter bit by bit until the mixture is smooth and shiny. If you find the mixture is too stiff, add a little boiling water to loosen it. When the cakes are cool enough, spread some ganache over each one allowing it to dribble down the sides. Cool and enjoy!

Written by michelle picker

March 28, 2018 at 12:07 am

chilli oil

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For those of you who love chilli, you’ll know that chilli oil is an important condiment at Chinese tables and a useful pantry staple. Made with facing heaven peppers, chilli oil is not very spicy (for a chilli oil) and has a nutty, toasty flavour enhanced by aromatics.

To make this chilli oil you will need 110g (4oz) of chilli flakes. If you can’t find the correct chilli flakes you can buy whole dry chillies and crush them in a food processor. Put the chilli flakes in a heatproof bowl or stainless steel saucepan and add some salt to taste as well as aromatics of your choice such as Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, ginger or five spice. The addition of aromatics is a personal preference which varies from region to region and even family to family in China. Next you need to heat a little more than 2 cups of oil. I used peanut oil but any vegetable oil without too much flavour would work. Heat the oil over a high flame to about 200ºC (400ºF). Remove from the heat and allow it to cool to around 135ºC (275ºF). Carefully pour the hot oil over the chilli flakes. It should sizzle and bubble releasing wonderful toasty aromas. Allow the finished chilli oil to cool before decanting into jars to store.



Written by michelle picker

March 21, 2018 at 12:09 am

mexican beef skewers

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From Chef Gabriel Gambou of Arrecife Restaurant in Colima, Mexico, this recipe was published in The Taste of Mexico by Patricia Quintana. Tender barbecued beef skewers are served with a rich and dark sauce made with cascabel chillies (shown here with refried black beans).

For the beef, use strips of sirloin or hanger steak, preferably with some fat marbling for tenderness. Thread the beef onto skewers, alternating with onion and green peppers if you wish. In a mortar and pestle crush 1-2 cloves of garlic with some salt, add freshly ground black pepper and ground cumin to taste and combine with ¼ of a cup of vegetable oil. Brush the oil mix onto the meat skewers and leave them to rest in the fridge while you prepare the sauce. For the sauce, fry 6 dried cascabel chillies in some oil until fragrant. Drain and soak them in hot water for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, roast a whole tomato by heating a dry griddle or heavy pan and cooking the whole tomato until the outside is charred. When the chillies are softened, drain them and keep the soaking liquid. Remove and discard the seeds and place the flesh into a blender or food processor. Add the roasted tomato, ½ a white onion, 4 cloves of garlic, 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, 2 bay leaves and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Add a little soaking liquid and blend until you have a good consistency. Cook this sauce in a little oil until the onions and garlic no longer taste raw. Season with salt and a little sugar to taste.

To cook the beef, brush with a little more oil and some clarified butter and cook on a barbecue, turning regularly, until the beef is to your liking. Serve with corn tortillas and other accompaniments such as re-fried beans, guacamole and fresh salsa.

Written by michelle picker

March 14, 2018 at 10:58 am