The gloves come off…

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By , November 29, 2010 9:05 pm

Getting ready

I think my reviews of the recipes have been pretty tame so far but I’m afraid tonight’s offering needs a little more constructive criticism.  I know this was Jamie’s first effort, but even as a reasonably well practised home cook, I found tonight’s recipe tricky to follow. So here is my review of Broth of Steaming Scallops, Prawns and Clams with Noodles, Black Beans, Coriander and Lime (NB: I couldn’t get clams for a Monday night noodle dish so I increased the amount of scallops and prawns).

Comment 1: Having not ever cooked with black beans before “simmer until tender” is not sufficient instruction, especially when you are planning how long it will take you to cook dinner.  As luck had it, there was no real urgency with dinner tonight so the 30ish minutes it took to cook them was not a problem.

Comment 2: As above “steam the seafood above the simmering stock”  is just not accurate enough. Thankfully I am pretty good at judging when things are cooked but I know all too many people that would leave the sea food steaming for 20 minutes and it would be way over done. For future reference it took less than 5 minutes to steam and the prawns were quicker than the scallops.

The finished dish

Comment 3: 455g of noodles is far too much for 4 people if you are using rice noodles.  Jamie doesn’t specify a type of noodle (there are many to choose from and I really home he wasn’t suggesting the instant type) so I used my knowledge of other Asian broths and chose rice vermicelli, of which 50g per person is more than generous especially when serving with beans!

Comment 4: As with the chicken broth it lacked real Asian flavour. There really needs to be some fish or soy sauce and maybe some kaffir lime. I’m giving Jamie the benefit of the doubt on this one though as I don’t think his public were ready for that in 1999!

So I’ll not be doing this one again, especially as Graham said “It’s nice but I prefer your recipe”…

The final push…

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By , November 28, 2010 8:36 pm

Spicy Couscous

I’m determined to get book one finished by the new year so today I re-energised for the last few recipes.  The new enthusiasm started because I have been looking through some of Jamie’s other books, and I’m really keen to try some more recipes, but not one to give up I’m determined to finish what I started.  I was also concerned that I wouldn’t be able to cook some of the recipes because I wouldn’t be able to get hold of some of the ingredients, or justify the cost of some of the others, but having foolishly asked my parents what they’d like for Christmas day, their reply was lobster! So despite have to re-mortgage the house to purchase said beasts I will be doing the lobster recipe (p105) for the festive season (perhaps not Christmas day as you have to cook them as soon after you buy them as possible, and not even the fish market is open Christmas Day).

So today’s triumphs were fish stock (p224) which I clarified (p226), for the Asian Seafood Broth (p27) for tomorrow nights dinner. Followed by Farfelle with Rocket Pesto for lunch (p81).  Although, as we near the end of this challenge I have a few minor confessions – I was unable to buy the watercress required for this recipe so I substituted with extra rocket. Then there was the farfalle which I didn’t manage to make from scratch today, but I did for the other farfalle recipes.

For dinner we had the spicy couscous (p180) which I accompanied with lamb steaks. Again, I couldn’t quite follow this recipe to the letter. Jamie says to simmer for 15 to 20 minutes once the stock has been added. However the stock was absorbed within a couple of minutes so simmering any further would’ve cemented it to the bottom of the pan, so I resorted to my tried and tested cooking method – covering with cling film and leaving to stand for five minutes.  This recipe was nice but simple, I think Jamie was breaking the world in gently to the exotic ingredient of couscous.

Chocolate tart

And finally to top the day off I made the simple chocolate tart.  Now I am really struggling with the desserts and breads so again I had to cheat a little to to tick another recipe off the list.  I have made a lot of homemade pastry recently so I felt I was allowed a day off so I bought some sweet pastry cases instead.  Part of this challenge is about increasing my cooking skills, and I have certainly improved my ability to make pastry from scratch so I am not feeling guilty about this one.  In fact, they were so simple I think it might encourage me to make dessert more often, and as Jamie’s latest project is to get people cooking properly every night (30 minute dinners) I think he would endorse the adaptation.  I have also dressed it up with a raspberry coolie, which makes up for the shop bought pastry, and I have to say it was pretty yummy!

Nearly There!

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By , November 7, 2010 11:51 am

Pork chops with pesto

I know I haven’t posted in here for a while, but I haven’t given up, I’ve just had to divide my time between practising for the Masterchef audition (which didn’t go any further than a taste of my dish and a chat with the producers, but never mind, I can channel my energy back into the Jamie project) and eating my way through the freezer to make room for more food for our Christmas visitors! But in amongst all of that I have had chance to do a couple of dishes. I thought I was going to have to admit defeat with a couple of the meat dishes because sourcing ingredients can be a bit tricky, but I managed to find a guinea fowl in a butchers in Leichhardt, which was pricey, but good to try. Due to the cost of such birds down here I think that one would have to be reserved for a special occasion in the future, but it also meant I have now found a place to buy rabbit, pheasant, partridge and pigeon, if I ever get a new job that has the salary to support that kind of shopping!

The recipes are now 70% cooked. As the weather has warmed up I have managed to blitz the salads and found some amazing ones that will become regular accompaniments to BBQ’s in the summer, the favourite was probably the root salad (p31) but the beetroot salad and radish and fennel salads would come very close, joint second. And trying the beetroot salad has encouraged us to try other beetroot dishes which were equally delicious!

Beetroot Pasta

I have also been refining my ravioli and tortellini making skills, to the point where I have discovered they freeze really well, so I now have a freezer full of the stuff for quick weekend lunches, which is fabulous! I also tried the special pasta recipe (p47) but once cooked, I couldn’t really see how it differed from the everyday quick pasta recipe.  I also tried the beetroot pasta with mussels. Again this one looked fabulous, but the pasta didn’t take on any of the flavour of the beetroot.

I think I can claim the vegetable chapter complete.  I made vegetable tempura, which was surprisingly tasty, leaving slow cooked artichokes. Now artichokes are one of the few things that you can only buy when they are in season. The artichoke season in Sydney has been and gone. I did buy a couple and try the salad recipe with them (p38) then tried frying the left overs (p138) but now, I will have to wait the best part of the year to finish it off, and I think Jamie would let me off that one so I can move onto book two in the hopefully near future.

Best of British!

By , November 7, 2010 10:45 am

So the Masterchef dream is over for this year, but in the lead up to the audition I had a fantastic week of British cooking so I thought I’d share the results. My angle for the audition was the Pom Down Under who was trying to persuade her friends that British cooking isn’t as bad as they think. And I genuinely think I’m bringing them round!

The audition dish was game terrine, with a duo of homemade chutney. I haven’t really made much chutney in the past so with two weeks until the audition (not really long enough to mature, but better than nothing) I made a selection of recipes from the BBC food website. The verdict:

Nigella’s Beetroot and Ginger Chutney had way too much vinegar for me. This one should have been the best. The colour was amazing, and I have a new found love of beetroot since moving the Oz, but the flavour was overwhelmed with vinegar. The ingredients were still swimming in vinegar at the end of the allotted cooking time, so even after draining a significant amount out it was still on the tart side.  I will make this one again but halve the vinegar content.

Pear Chutney Nice but not outstanding. A better proportion of vinegar to other ingredients, which made a nice, squidgy consistency. I didn’t use any saffron in it, but I don’t think that would have made a vast improvement! I always think saffron is more for colour than flavour, and a very expensive way of adding colour if you ask me!

A chutney for rabbit terrine was a last minute addition as I thought I might like to serve a rabbit terrine, until it fell apart on slicing. So in terms of evaluating the flavour, it may be unfair critique as I tried it the following day, but the recipe didn’t say it had to mature for weeks on end. The disappointment for me with this one was the ketchup. I could actually taste it in the final product, which was a bit disappointing for someone who usually likes to make things from scratch.

Christmas Chutney was by far the best. I will definitely be making this one again. The only slight variation I made was using dried figs instead of dates, but it was utterly delicious!

So it was the beetroot and ginger and Christmas chutney’s that made it to the audition, with the game terrine (recipe from Tony and Girogio’s book). And the chef liked it, he said it was nicely seasoned and well presented, and compared mine to the other terrine in the room as a good example even though the other guys terrine was duck and truffle, which really should have trumped mine!

If I did make it to cook for the judges, I had to have a dish up my sleeve that demonstrated my cooking skill in an hour.  So to keep with the British theme I decided to do a modern twist on roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.  This involved mini Yorkshire puddings (made in mini muffin trays) with parsnip puree, horseradish cream topped off with a slice of rare roast beef fillet and drizzle of red wine sauce.  I thought it was a winner, and so did the gang of friends that came over to test it, but I obviously didn’t sell it well enough when I had my chat with the producers as they didn’t let me cook it for the judges.

Scotch Egg

In case I had to embellish my story, I also cooked some scotch eggs and minted peas soup, which would make quite good accompaniments to the dish above. So if they asked me what I might serve with the above dish I had some ideas.  And I can’t beleive I have gone al these years without sampling the delights of home made scotch eggs. I used to love taking them to school as part of my packed lunch, but those ones weren’t a patch on the home made ones (served with a bit of chutney!), and it is the perfect way to use u some of the left over sausage me I am always left with after making my home made sausages.

So the moral of the tale is, don’t let the mean producers of Masterchef put you off cooking.  I will just have to find some more willing volunteers to cook for and maybe I’ll investigate writing my own cook book without the help of Channel 10!

Here is the recipe for the soup, if you would like to give it a go.  I found the recipe in Gordon Ramsay’s British Pub food, but you know me, I just can’t stick to a recipe if I try.  So I swapped the shallots for onions as I don’t have the time or patience to peel shallots, and I know this is probably scandalous, but in something like soup, I can’t taste a significant difference! Graham also suggested if I did it again I should put crispy bacon on top, to make it a posh pea and ham soup, and he was absolutely right, second time round it tasted even better!

Chilled Pea Soup

Chilled Pea soup
Serves 6 as an amuse bouche or two for a tasty summer lunch

Olive oil for frying
½  onion finely chopped
300g frozen peas
350ml chicken stock
1 slice of pancetta/speck/bacon
2 prigs mint, leaves only, roughly chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a small saucepan and slowly fry the onion on a medium heat until cooked but not brown (about 5 minutes).

Heat the stock in a second pan.

Once the onions are cooked add the frozen peas and the stock and bring to the boil. Simmer for 5 mins until the peas are cooked then add the mint leaves. Remove from the heat, allow to cool for a couple of minutes then blend until smooth.  Season generously with salt and pepper, as you need more seasoning for cold soup.

Pour into a bowl set over iced water to cool quickly (this is not absolutely necessary but keeps the nice green colour). Chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours before serving.

Just before you’re ready to serve, cut the pancetta into 5mm cubes and fry until crisp. Drain onto kitchen paper and allow to cool.

Serve the chilled soup in small coffee cups, with a sprinkle of black pepper and the pancetta cubes on top.

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