food for thought

by michelle

noodle salad with cucumber and poppy seeds

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Another delightful salad from the cookbook Plenty by Yotam OttolenghiTart apple, cooling cucumber, pickled onions and fresh herbs. What a great combination.

In a small saucepan combine 60ml (2 fl oz) of cider vinegar, 30g (1 oz) of caster sugar and 60ml (2 fl oz) of water. Bring to a boil over high heat until the sugar has dissolved and continue to cook for a few minutes to reduce by one third. Finely slice 1 red onion and finely julienne a 5cm (2″) piece of ginger and place them in a small bowl. Pour the hot liquid over them and allow to pickle for 1 hour. Meanwhile, break 150g (5 oz) of flat rice noodles into 15cm (6″) pieces and place them in a large bowl. Pour boiling water over them to cover and set aside for 10-15 minutes. When the noodles are soft drain them and put them in a large serving bowl. Toss them with 1 tablespoon of oil and allow  to cool. Blanch and drain 200g (7 oz) of edamame beans, core and slice 1 sharp green apple into thin wedges, de-seed and julienne 2 red chillies, roughly chop 10g (⅓ oz) each of fresh mint and tarragon and cut 2 large cucumbers in half lengthways, scooping out the seeds and cutting them into thin long strips. Add all the prepared vegetables and the pickled onion and ginger to the noodles. Add 1 tablespoon of poppy seeds, some more vegetable oil, 1½ teaspoons of salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Toss well and serve.


Written by michelle picker

January 17, 2018 at 12:17 am

turmeric chilli squid + belacan asparagus

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Fifi cooked up a storm when she stayed recently. This Malaysian squid dish includes ingredients popular throughout South-East Asia such as turmeric and kaffir lime leaves.

Place 700g (1½ lbs) of fresh squid rings in a non-reactive bowl and add 1½ teaspoons of ground turmeric, 1 tablespoon of chilli flakes, 1 finely minced clove of garlic, 3 finely sliced kaffir lime leaves, 1 tablespoon of grated palm sugar, 1 tablespoon of Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, the juice of ½ – 1 lemon, 1 teaspoon each of salt and freshly ground black pepper and 1-2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Allow the squid to marinate for at least a few hours before cooking in a hot wok until just cooked through and still tender. Serve with steamed rice. 

Roasted shrimp paste or belacan is a common addition to Malaysian dishes. Here it adds amazing flavour to asparagus and zucchini.

Soak 1-2 tablespoons of dried shrimp to soften them a little. Wrap a small piece (approximately 2 teaspoons) of belacan in foil and roast it over a flame or in the oven – it’s done when it smells roasted. Chop a few brown shallots, a few cloves of garlic and some fresh red chillies and place them in a mortar and pestle (or a small food processor) with the shrimp and shrimp paste. Pound (or process) to a rough paste (rempah). Cut the asparagus and zucchini into similar sized pieces. Heat some oil in a wok until very hot and add the rempah, cooking until fragrant. Add the vegetables and stir constantly until just cooked. This dish shouldn’t require any seasoning as the belacan and dried shrimp are salty but check the seasoning just in case and serve hot.

Written by michelle picker

January 10, 2018 at 12:34 am

lemon and mixed berry cake

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This cake, baked with my sister Eve, made an impressive and festive Christmas dessert. From SWEET  by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh, the light and fluffy lemon sponge and berry buttercream are assembled into a sort of swiss roll on it’s side.

Preheat your oven to 205ºC (400ºF) and line a shallow 30 x 40cm (12 x 15″) rimmed baking sheet with baking paper. For the cake separate 8 large eggs and place the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer along with 180g (5½ oz) of sugar and 3 teaspoons of lemon juice. With the whisk attachment beat on medium-high for about 3 minutes until pale and thick. Transfer the mixture to a large mixing bowl and add ⅛ of a teaspoon of salt. Sift in 135g (4¾ oz) of all-purpose flour in two batches, folding through with a rubber spatula after each addition. Sprinkle ¾ of a teaspoon of finely grated lemon zest on top and set aside. Now place the 8 egg whites in the clean, dry bowl of an electric mixer and whisk on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. Slowly add in 4½ teaspoons of sugar and continue to whisk until your have firm peaks. Fold one third of the egg whites into the egg yolk mixture until incorporated then fold in the rest until combined. Transfer to the baking sheet and even out the surface with a spatula. Bake for 15 minutes or until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Remove from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool in the pan for 5 minutes before dusting the top lightly with powdered sugar. Place a clean kitchen towel on top of the cake and flip it over so that it is now lying on top of the kitchen towel. Carefully peel away the paper and straighten the very edges of the sponge. Starting at the shorter edge of the cake, carefully roll it up (along with the kitchen towel). This will train the cake to roll when assembling later. When cooled, unroll the cake and cut into 3 equal strips lengthwise (we opted for 2 to make a narrower, taller cake). Cover with a clean kitchen towel and set aside. For the purée place 300g (10½ oz) of mixed berries and 80g (2.8 oz) of sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat. Warm through for 4-5 minutes until the berries are soft and the sugar dissolved. Transfer to a food processor to purée and then strain into a bowl through a fine mesh sieve. For the buttercream add ¼ of a cup of light corn syrup (I used glucose), 135g (4¾ oz) of sugar and the seeds scraped from ½ a vanilla bean into a medium saucepan. Place over low heat and stir until all the sugar dissolves. While the syrup is cooking place 4 egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer with the whisk attachment in place and beat on medium-high speed until thick and pale yellow in colour. Now stir the sugar syrup again and increase the heat to medium until bubbles begin to appear. Swirl the pan gently and continue to simmer until there are large bubbles all over the surface of the syrup. Remove the pan from the heat and with the mixer on low carefully pour the hot syrup in a slow, steady stream into the beating yolks. When all the syrup has been added increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat for about 10 minutes until cool. Gradually add 255g (9 oz) of softened unsalted butter, one spoonful at a time, allowing it to be incorporated into the mixture before adding the next. When all the butter has been added scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for another minute until very smooth and light. Add a scant ½ cup of the berry purée and beat on medium speed until fully incorporated. To assemble the cake spread each of the strips of sponge with about 85g (3 oz) of the buttercream. This should leave enough for the top and sides of the cake. Take one strip of sponge and roll it up. Position the exposed end at the beginning of the next strip and keep rolling. Add the last strip at the end of the second and roll again until you have a whole cake. Transfer to your serving plate standing the cake on a flat end. Smooth the remaining buttercream all over the top and sides of the cake with a spatula. Drizzle the remaining berry purée over the top of the cake and decorate with fresh berries (we chose blueberries). Set aside for 1 hour at room temperature (or in the fridge on a warm day) before serving.

Written by michelle picker

January 3, 2018 at 12:28 am

christmas 2017

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This year our Christmas lunch was a lovely eclectic mixture of food. Our guests brought the entree of antipasti.

For the main course we roasted butterflied chickens over charcoal with a garlic, sage and rosemary butter under the skin. We added oak chips from Chardonnay barrels to the fire for a smoky flavour. Our gravy was Chef John’s turkey gravy recipe made with chicken wings instead.

Side dishes included potatoes and heirloom carrots cooked in duck fat, a lovely fresh salad,

and a wonderful stuffing following this recipe.

My next post will be dedicated to our Christmas dessert.

Written by michelle picker

December 27, 2017 at 12:18 am

chicken in a chorizo and red wine sauce

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This wonderful recipe, from The Foods and Wines of Spain by Penelope Casas, is a family favourite. Serve it with crusty bread, a fresh green salad and a robust red wine.

This recipe is for a whole jointed chicken but any bone-in chicken will work. Season your chicken pieces with salt and freshly ground black pepper and dust them lightly with a little flour. In a large, heavy casserole dish heat some olive oil and brown the chicken pieces on all sides. Depending on how large your pot is, you may have to remove the chicken to a plate at this stage. Add 1 large finely chopped onion, 1 finely diced carrot, 2 minced cloves of garlic and 1 skinned and finely chopped chorizo sausage. Sauté this mixture until the onions wilt. Add 2 tablespoons of brandy and flame to remove the alcohol. If you have removed the chicken, return it to the pot with 1 finely diced pimiento (skinned sweet red pepper), 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon of finely chopped parsley, ½ of a teaspoon of fresh thyme, ½ a cup of chicken stock and 1 cup of dry red wine. Cover and simmer over low heat for 1 – 1½ hours until the chicken is falling from the bone.

Written by michelle picker

December 20, 2017 at 12:10 am

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