Tag Archives: cooking

O’Gourmet Food Hall Truffled Gnocchi

29 Jan

I have always been fascinated by gnocchi – those delicate, pillowy little Italian dumplings made from flour and potato. They seem so simple, and yet they are intimidating. It seems that there could be so many ways to stuff it all up. Because the key to making gnocchi is in the simplicity – some recipes call for just potato and flour and a bit of seasoning – you need to follow directions really closely, and you need to have top grade ingredients.

You can play around with gnocchi, but you really should try a basic recipe first. This one actually is quite simple and quick. Β It includes the addition of an egg (for richness and flavour) and some diced truffles, but actually, you can forgo them if you want to. Or add other ingredients – parmesan and butternut come to mind, or spinach and garlic. But do try a basic version first. You need to get the feel of the dough, and the lightness of the handling.

Basically gnocchi have a base of potato that needs to be as dry as possible. There are a few ways to ensure that this happens. First of all, ensure you use starchy, not waxy potatoes. Russet are excellent. Next, bake the potato, dont boil it. Peel the potato after it has been baked, and then mash it lightly with a fork or put it through a potato ricer. Treat it very gently. Add the egg / seasoning if you are using, and salt and pepper. And finally, toss in the flour, a tablespoon at a time. This will ensure that you use the bare minimum of flour, which will avoid thick, heavy gnocchi, and a smooth supple dough.

It sounds like a lot to remember, but really its common sense. Gnocchi are delicate, therefore you need to treat them delicately. Use your hands, so you can feel the dough coming together, and go slow, and soft. It will work out, I promise. Plus, a home made gnocchi, even if it is a little tough, is a thousand times better than a store bought one, any day!

For about 60 – 80 gnocchi (serving 4 – 6 people, depending on greed and hunger)

  • 2 large russet potatoes (approximately 2 kg)
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 1 small truffle, grated or finely diced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 scant cup 00 flour (bread or pasta flour with high gluten content)

Preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

Pierce the potatoes with a fork, and bake in the oven for about 30 – 45 minutes, or until a skewer or knife goes all the way through with little resistance.

Peel the potatoes while they are still hot. Put the potatoes through a ricer or mash very gently, in a large bowl. You dont want the potatoes gluey – fluffy is what you are looking for. A ricer is the best way to ensure this – and they are relatively cheap (I bought one from Ikea for less than RM50).

Break the egg into a small separate bowl, and finely grate the truffle over. I use a Microplane lemon zester to get very fine strips of truffle, but you can even chop the truffle finely if needed. Add a generous pinch of salt and peper, and whisk. You could add half a teaspoon of truffle oil if you like, but the entire point of gnocchi is to ensure the dough is not too wet, and not handled too much.

Make a well in the centre of the mixture, and pour in the egg/truffle concoction. Toss lightly with your fingers. The egg will not make the potatoes gluey if you have treated them properly to start with, but will definitely make them wet.

Measure out your flour. You will probably only use about half a cup of flour, but its useful to have extra if needed. Add the flour to the warm potatoes and egg by the tablespoonful. Toss gently after each addition with the tips of your fingers. You will see the flour slowly incorporating into the potatoes. After about a half a cup of flour, knead lightly and bring the dough together. Add a little more flour, a tablespoon at a time, to get a smooth mixture that is not too sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a floured work space, and let it rest for a few minutes. Place some wax paper on a large baking tin or cookie tray.

Divide the dough into four equal portions, and work with one portion at a time. Roll the portion out into a long thin sausage, and dust lightly with flour. Using a sharp knife, slice into small gnocchi sized portions. I usually cut about 1 – 1 1/2 inches. Using the tines of a fork, mark the gnocchi on one side, and place gently onto the cookie tray.

Let the gnocchi air dry for at least 10 – 15 minutes. You can store them in a ziploc baggie and freeze them, for up to six months. Or you can use immediately.

To cook gnocchi: Bring a large saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Work quickly, and be ready to serve immediately. Gnocchi are not good cold! Have a warm bowl at the ready. Work with about 20 gnocchi at a time (or more depending on the size of your saucepan). Once the water is boiling, tip the gnocchi in, and allow them to bob to the top. This should take less than 3 minutes. Using a sieve, fish the gnocchi out, and place in the warmed bowl with a touch of olive oil or butter. Continue with the remaining gnocchi. Once all the gnocchi has been prepared, toss gently with warm sauce and serve immediately.

I served a very simple sauce of spinach, wine, garlic and a touch of cream with these gnocchi. It was sublime!

Baby Shower!

20 Jan

This coming Sunday, I am hosting a baby shower for one of my dearest friends. It was going to be a rather casual affair, but we suddenly realised we have more than 60 people coming! Luckily, we live in the tropics, and the party can spill out into the pool area.

Cooking for those you love is a form of service and joy. I have cooked for birthdays and weddings, for those who are ill and for those who want to celebrate. I dont think I have ever cooked for a baby shower though. This crowd is going to be a lovely mix of women, some who are new friends, and others who I have known for decades.

Making food for a celebration is always special – but to celebrate a new life, well, now, thats just a beautiful moment. My friend is gathering around her all those who mean much, and it is such an honour to be able to provide the food for such a group.

I love cooking for parties, but I have to admit, 60 people is a bit daunting. At least we invited them for tea, and not for a major meal! AngelKitten and I have been working quite hard to come up with a balanced and delicious high tea, that has luxurious and exotic elements to it.

Here is what we are going to serve:

  • Baked spinach and artichoke dip – this one is a standby that is delicious every time we make it. We have adapted it somewhat to suit the Asian palette – we add a lot of very hot chili powder to the mix. It transforms the dip into something very special.
  • Mini cheddar cheese scones – stuffed with herbed cream cheese / chili jam / cranberry cheese – I love these, and they are easy to make and delicious to eat. Stuffing them with a variety of fillings gives variety from a single bake.
  • Avocado and feta dip – salty, creamy, fresh and bright. Avocados always feel luxurious, and feta is the perfect complement to the cool green flesh. A little lemon juice and some herbs make this dip complex, and yet it is so easy to make.
  • Sliced carrots and chips on the side – so that those who want a little indulgence can have chips, and those who want a lighter option can munch on the carrots!
  • Truffled potato salad – because sometimes a new, decadent twist on an old favourite is called for! I like having at least one dish that is different, and that will spark people’s interest and appetites. I will probably use mascarpone with the truffles … simple and deeply flavourful.
  • Starry starry night cookies – these baked truffle cookies, made with bittersweet chocolate, honey, almond flour, eggs and sugar, are my friend’s favourite. They are so good.
  • Ginger cake with vanilla cream cheese frosting – a request from my friend. I have some gorgeous ginger curd from O’Gourmet Food Hall which I am considering using in the cake batter to make it deeper, damper and more delicious. Luckily, we also found some Bentong ginger at O’Gourmet, so I know that the cake will be bright and beautifully gingery.
  • Chocolate cake with chocolate frosting – because you cant have too much chocolate, and because AngelKitten and I were worried that with 60 people, one cake wouldnt be enough!
  • Fruit salad with iced raspberry puree – a fresh alternative to all the rich desserts. We have a watermelon, kiwi and dragon fruits… and we are freezing raspberry puree into ice molds. These will be dotted amongst the salad, and will keep it cool and fresh, as well as add flavour and taste.
  • Iced fruit tea with starfruit

And for thank you gifts for all our guests, I am making blondies – ten per person … Ive just filled about 45 little gift bags, and will do the rest tomorrow.

What do you think? Any other suggestions? πŸ™‚

O’Gourmet Food Hall Yee Sang Cake

18 Jan

One of the things I love about working with O’Gourmet Food Hall is that I am constantly challenged to think differently. Creating new recipes is intense, focused and fulfilling work, but the pleasure is multiplied when one has inspiring ingredients, and people, to work with.

I have enjoyed getting to know the various characters who work at O’Gourmet, and I am always interested in the new products which come in. Its wonderful to be the first to know about the sublime chili brought by hand from Kashmir, or to be introduced to an intriguing cheese.

About a month or so ago, LingCat came to me and told me that O’Gourmet was working on a Chinese New Year booklet, highlighting some of the unique food and drink of the season. She asked me to think outside the box, and come up with an special New Year dish. I love this kind of challenge, and it reflects, for me, the philosophy of O’Gourmet – unique, interesting and tasty, with a twist!

AngelKitten and I had lunch and threw around lots of different ideas, but we kept coming back to the traditional Yee Sang salad. Usually served as an appetiser, the Yee Sang is a very symbolic savoury dish, with each ingredient representing a wish for the new year. Tossed together at the table, the Yee Sang is a communal wishing for good luck and abundance.

However, Yee Sang is almost always served with raw fish – not very vegetarian! So AngelKitten and I decided to up-end this salad, and turn it from savoury to sweet. What would a Yee Sang dessert look like? We wandered through O’Gourmet Food Hall and were inspired by the dried fruits and nuts, and the gorgeous miniature apples and oranges. We decided that we would create a cake that looked like a plate, upon which a “salad” of symbolic fruit and nuts would be tossed. Each element of the dish needed to represent a different hope for the new year, and after some research (and much tasting), we had our ingredients.

We were lucky enough to have the wisdom and generosity of Mama Min (an amazing baker), who introduced us to PastryPro. This professional baker’s paradise was able to print a graphic image of a blue and white china plate on a sheet of icing for us. As we are entering the Year of the Rabbit, we found a beautiful image of an old china plate, with a rabbit front and centre. And of course, since rabbits love carrots, we decided that the base for the cake “plate” would be carrot cake, with a twist. We added a scant amount of 5 spice powder (a common element in the traditional Yee Sang), and came up with a unique and delicious cake which embodied the Chinese New Year.

We chose our “salad” ingredients with care. Dried pomelo, mango, lychee and strawberries, as well as caramelised cashews, chocolate almonds, winter melon, pumpkin and sesame seeds. I also candied some tiny Japanese apples, and caramelised some beautiful little oranges. AngelKitten spent ages painstakingly painting the dried fruits and nuts with gold powder, and I baked, candied and caramelised. We rolled fondant, applied our beautiful printed icing sheet, and sat back and sighed with happiness.

We brought our Yee Sang Cake to the brilliant Ping and Partner whose photographs grace this page. And when we finally saw the recipe in print, it was a feeling that cant be described … pride, happiness, satisfaction. In the end, we created a stunningly beautiful (and very delicious) version of the traditional Yee Sang.

Both AngelKitten and I would like to wish everyone a prosperous and happy Year of the Rabbit!

If you would like the recipe, please pick up a copy of O’Gourmet Food Hall’s “Traditions and Reunions” booklet at Bangsar Shopping Centre, or download the pdf by clicking on this link.

Please note that all images on this post are copyright O’Gourmet Food Hall, and may not be reproduced without written permission.

Delectable Wanderings …

18 Jan

I have not blogged for two weeks now… and I have missed it so much. The discipline, the focus, and the energy that I get from blogging every day has been missing. Part of it was that I lost all my data – my hard drive crashed. I felt sad every time I looked at a computer. But part of it, I think, was that I was internalising my life as a cook, and embracing, fully, my new life.

Though I have not blogged, I have been immersed in cooking and eating.

I have had two photo shoots – one for O’Gourmet, with a Yee Sang Cake I created for Chinese New Year (which will be my next blog post!), and one for ReTale, with my delicious chili ice cream for Valentine’s Day. I was lucky enough to work with amazing artists, designers and photographers for both shoots, and the images are stunning.

AngelKitten and I have had an amazing time. I am so grateful to the generosity of the amazing baker, Mama Min. She introduced us to what has quickly become one of my favourite hangouts in KL – PastryPro. This is a shop for serious bakers. The first time we went, AngelKitten and I spent hours wandering the aisles. We were like little kids in a candy shop. AngelKitten was completely and utterly smitten by the sugarcraft supplies. We got gorgeous gum paste and fondant, and all sorts of tools for sugar flower making.

PastryPro also has a wonderful service. They will print any image (photograph or graphic) onto an A4 icing sheet (for RM15), which you can place atop a cake or cupcake. I used this to create a cake “plate” for my Yee Sang, and the results were gorgeous. If youre interested, email PastryPro with your image. Its that easy!

AngelKitten and I stocked up on basics – vanilla beans, almond flour, sugar, 74% cacao bittersweet chocolate, cream, butter, cake rounds, cake boxes and spices. We also splurged, on gold leaf, gold powder, beautiful ready made decorations, and glitters. All in all, a satisfying and enjoyable adventure.

AngelKitten and I were also lucky enough to catch a great cooking class by Manju Saigal and maestro Paul on roti chennai and dosa, as well as two stunningly good chutneys. Manju teaches wonderful cooking classes from her home – particularly focusing on Indian cuisine.

The class was such great fun. We learned how to make the dough for both roti chennai and dosa, and also the wrist technique for flipping and stretching the roti dough. We each got to try our hand at making various kinds of breads, and we loved eating our own creations. I am not sure either of us is ready to join the mamak stall quite yet, but it was a really enjoyable and interesting day.

If you want to be informed of new classes, email Manju and get put on her mailing list.

And finally, we have had some decadent and lovely meals in the past few weeks. The always good La Risata in Damansara served up a luscious pizza speck – caramelised onions, gorgonzola and mozzarella. And Vineria.it in Bangsar Shopping Centre produced a wonderful chili, tomato, and pesto pasta that left us sighing.

And I have done a lot of cooking – refining of old standards, and exploration of new dishes. I have cooked for friends, and also accepted a couple of orders for speciality dishes. I have also been planning a baby shower for Jobby, which is happening this coming weekend, and of course, I will be blogging it all.

Its been a food filled few weeks, and I am looking forward to getting back into the blogging cycle. I have missed this space, and I am excited to be back!

Chili Ice Cream

4 Jan

I have had a thing for ice cream for as long as I can remember. The cool, smooth texture, melting as it meets the heat of your mouth. The happiness contained in that one complex, and yet simple bite. Its comfort food, and yet it can be incredibly sensual. I love imagining different ice cream flavours, and when I found the amazing Kashmir chili powder at O’Gourmet, my senses went into overdrive. What would happen, I wondered, if the cool of ice cream met the deep dusky heat of chili?

As it turns out, very very good things. I made a basic vanilla ice cream – heavy on the vanilla – and added the chili powder at the end. The interesting part for me is that when you first taste it, you dont really feel the heat of the chili. It seems subtle … nuanced … just a hint. The overarching flavour and scent, at first, is vanilla. And then, the chili wraps itself around your throat, your taste buds, and you get a flash of heat. Amazing. When people taste this ice cream, they mmmm at the flavour of the vanilla, and say they cannot taste the chili. Seconds later, their eyes light up, they smile, and they go ohhhhh. There it is!

And I was also inspired by a beautiful gift from my dearest Adi – cocoa nibs that she brought back from her journeying. Cocoa nibs are the bean of the cocoa plant, before its made into chocolate. Roasted, to bring out the oils and the flavour, and then crushed, the nibs have a deep, intense and complex chocolate flavour without any added sweetness. I added the nibs to the ice cream right at the end – to give texture, almost like a chocolate chip ice cream, and also because chocolate and chili are such lush and symbiotic bed mates.

Such an amazing contrast. And such a wonderful aphrodisiac. Capsaicin, the compound which gives chili its heat, is considered an aphrodisiac the world over. It stimulates our nerve endings, gives us a rush of endorphins and makes our pulse beat faster. Pretty sexy, I would say. And combining the chili with chocolate, another well known aphrodisiac, is like a partnership made in heaven.Β You could serve this ice cream unadorned, and it would be a revelation. Combined with hot fudge sauce and port pear chili jam, it becomes a sundae that over takes the sense, strokes the fires and makes people melt. It really is that good.

And to be honest, its preparation is pretty simple. You need to make it at least a day before serving, to allow the ice cream to ripen in the freezer. Get the absolute best quality chili powder you can find – and add it to the vanilla ice cream base carefully. Not all chili powders pack the same punch. Some are much more complex than others, and some have significantly more fire. In total, I added about 1 and a half tablespoons of chili powder, but you may need much more or much less. Add by the quarter teaspoon, and taste and adjust as you go. You will know its right when after the first flush of vanilla and cream have abated, your mouth is aflame with the heat of chili – for one brief, beautiful, blazing moment. And then, as it dissipates, you get that urge and you want it to start all over again πŸ˜‰

Makes about 1 quart

  • 3 cups milk / cream – I used 1 cup milk + 2 cups cream. You can certainly change the ratio, but the more cream you use, the smoother the finished product
  • 2 vanilla beans or 2 tbsp vanilla essence or 2 tbsp vanilla paste
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup caster or light brown sugar
  • 5 egg yolks (whites reserved for another use)
  • 1 – 2 tbsp chili powder, added in increments of 1/4 tsp at a time – to your taste
  • 2 – 3 tbsp cocoa nibs (optional, but wonderful)

Pour the milk / cream into a large saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, and scrape out the seeds into the milk / cream. Add the beans to the milk as well. Add the salt and half a cup of the sugar, and stir to combine.

Place the milk mixture on low heat, and bring to about 170F (77C). The mixture will start to steam. Stir to ensure all the sugar has been absorbed, and set aside.

Whisk together the egg yolks and the remaining 1/4 cup sugar, until the yolks are thick and lemon coloured. When you lift the whisk, the yolks should form a ribbon.

Temper the yolks by pouring about 1/4 of the hot milk mixture into the yolks and whisk well. Pour the yolk/milk mixture back into the saucepan, and stir. Place back on low heat, and bring the mixture back up to 170F (77C), stirring all the while. The mixture should coat the back of a spoon.

Strain the custard through a fine sieve. Discard the vanilla beans (or wash and dry them, and pop them in a canister of sugar) and allow the custard to cool to room temperature.

Refrigerate the cooled custard for at least 1 – 2 hours.

Once the custard has cooled, begin to add the chili powder, 1/4 teaspoon at a time, whisking well after each addition. It helps to sieve the custard back and forth between two large bowls, as you add each 1/4 teaspoon of chili powder. This ensures that the chili powder really gets integrated into the vanilla custard, and allows you to taste its heat.

Once you have reached your optimum chili level, add the custard to an ice cream maker, and process according to the maker’s directions.

As soon as the ice cream has been processed, scoop it out into a container (it will be very soft, and you will need to work quickly), and fold in the cocoa nibs, if using. Sprinkle a few cocoa nibs on top, and freeze overnight to allow the ice cream to ripen.

Serve as is, or with hot fudge sauce and pear port chili jam for a wicked and decadent sundae.

Enjoy!

Candied Caramelised Oranges

21 Dec

Are you stuck for a Christmas dessert that you can make without much thought, and which will taste as if you have put in hours of work? These candied, caramelised oranges might just be the thing. I love their jewel-like colour – a deep dark citrine or amber … glistening with orangey caramel syrup that they make themselves. Theyre blowsily sexy – soft, sticky, totally decadent and delectable. They taste like the holidays… and believe me, theyre so simple, its almost embarrassing!

I decided to make them because I am working on a Chinese New Year cake that uses candied and dried fruits. I love those little tiny oranges you can get this time of year Β – mini mandarins from China. You could also use kumquats. They are the main component of the recipe, so make sure you get good ones. Everything else you need, you probably have in your pantry. Its really up to you what flavourings and essences you use – most of the time, I just add sugar, water and a touch of juice.

How I can call this a recipe, Im not sure. Its so simple, but its gorgeous. Lush with the oranges’ own caramel, the little tiny orange balls go translucent, and then a deep dark hue that has a richness and beauty all its own. Serve warm (you can make ahead and reheat, or just stick it on the stove in the morning, and let it go) with some vanilla ice cream or a dollop of heavy cream, and youre done. Heaven. Sweet, bitter, astringent, caramel, citrus, smoke – such a complexity of flavour, and so so easy. In the stress and mess of the holidays, sometimes that is a gift in and of itself.

To serve 4 – 6 people, you will need:

  • 2 cups light brown or caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup juice (or even wine)
  • Spices if you want – cinnamon is great here, as are cloves, star anise, nutmeg – but be gentle!
  • 4 cups of tiny mandarin oranges

Place a large pot, with lid, on stove top. Add sugar, water, juice and any spices. Bring gently to the boil, over low-medium heat, stirring every so often to dissolve the sugar. The sugar will boil up eventually, and then become clear. Turn the heat right down so the sugar syrup is just bubbling – little tiny plops.

Wash the little oranges well, ensuring that the little stem is removed, if needed. Poke each orange several times with a toothpick.

Place the oranges in the sugar syrup, gently gently. Give everything a stir, make sure the heat is very very low, and cover.

Simmer the oranges in the syrup for at least 1 – 2 hours, longer if you like. They will turn translucent and go very dark. Its almost like youre making marmalade, but with whole oranges.

Everything will caramelise, the oranges will leak their juice and essence, and the syrup will also turn a gorgeous burnt sticky orange.

Serve warm, with a bit of ice cream, mascarpone, or heavy cream. Heaven.

O’Gourmet Food Hall Asparagus & Mushroom Tart

19 Dec

The other day, I bumped into my friend, MsTina, as I was wandering the halls of O’Gourmet. She took one look at my face, and just laughed. I was wandering in a haze of sensual delight, in one hand a spoon, from tasting the oils and vinegars at Vom Fass, and the other hand rubbing together together a bit of Betong ginger – fresh, organic and local and with a scent that has to be experienced to be believed.

I am truly enjoying my weekly sojourns to O’Gourmet because of the quality and variety of ingredients. Inspiration seems to be everywhere. I love all the gorgeous glass bottles of sauce and spice and everything nice. I could just stand and look at all the enticing spices and nuts, tasting this and that, for ages. And dont even get me started on the vegetables! They are so beautiful! Displayed as if in a museum, with the choicest and most perfectly chosen pieces offered up for your pleasure. The woman in charge of the fruits and vegetables, Miss Heng, is a master at knifework, and so she prepares all the produce with an eye to pleasing the visual palate. When I am there, I can be inspired in an instant!

This week, my eye was caught by the most beautiful trio of asparagus – white, green and purple. Asparagus is an fascinating vegetable. Grown above ground, in full sunshine, it turns green, but cover it a little, so that only heads peek above, and the limited amount of chlorophyll it consumes means that the asparagus turns out purple. And grown completely underground, and harvested in the early dawn, so that very little light affects its growing, asparagus is clean pure white. Each tastes different – the white can be very sweet, the purple a kind of calm middle ground, and the green has that traditional nutty lemony flavour.

I decided I wanted to make an asparagus tart – but then I was captured by the gorgeous leeks and the creamy and fresh mushrooms – both white button and portobello. So I decided that I was going to make a tart which incorporated everything. I thought I would use phyllo pastry dough so it would be a rough, freeform tart, and I would place the asparagus and the mushrooms in alternating blocks of intensity on the pastry. From Vom Fass, I sourced gorgeous scented truffle oil for the mushrooms, and a bright, brilliant lemon oil to finish off the asparagus.

Now the only decision was what would form the cushion upon which the veggies would sit in splendour. I wanted the process to be simple – as complex as these tastes are, putting together this tart only takes a few minutes. So, of course, a consultation with M. Sebastien at the cheese room was in order (along with a few heavenly tastings of cheese!). He decided on a Crottin de Chavignol to pair with the asparagus. It was a master step. Crottin de Chavignol is perhaps the most famous of the goat cheeses. Its created, to strict standards, in a tiny village in the Loire valley. Its creamy, nutty, slightly tart – and perfectly balances the delicacy of the asparagus. For the mushrooms, we decided on a Pecorino al Tartufo – a young pecorino, stuffed to the gills with truffles. The scent was overwhelmingly blowsily lush, and I could have purred with happiness right then and there. To bind them together, I decided on using a little cream cheese (and in a bold move), some Delice de Bourgogne – a gorgeous cow’s milk cheese which tastes like organic cream imbued with sunshine and hay. Its like a brie, but less strong – its centre was crumbly and yet yeilding, and the edges were thickly creamy. What a cheese!

I would suggest, if you have a good cheese shop, to go, taste, and consult. There are few experiences quite so lovely as the careful contemplation of beautiful cheese. And a cheese master can help you pair cheese – particularly if you tell them exactly how you will use it – with various vegetables and foods. If you are making this tart from what you can find in the market, I would look for a good parmesan or pecorino, some goat’s cheese and a great cream cheese. This recipe is definitely adaptable – use your own cooking intelligence, your sense of taste and balance, and it will be gorgeous!

While this recipe is simple, there are a few steps to be followed. Because of the phyllo pastry, you want to make sure that the ingredients are not wet, otherwise the pastry will be soggy. Most, if not all, of the work can be done before hand. Prebake the pastry for ten minutes – it can be kept in the fridge up to 2 days. Mix and mash the cheeses, and keep covered in the fridge until ready to use. And blanch the asparagus (they live longer in the fridge if slightly blanched) and prep the mushrooms up to three days in advance. Assembly of the tart takes minutes (particularly if youve already baked the shell), and once baked, the tart can be kept in the fridge, for up to two days, reheated in a low oven, covered, just before serving.

Serves 8 – 10 people as a starter, 4 – 6 people as a main course

Balsamic mushrooms

  • 1/2 cup dried mushrooms – I used black trumpet
  • 1 – 2 tbsp truffle oil or olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 leek, finely diced
  • 2 cups mixed mushrooms – about 4 – 6 portobello and 4 – 6 button – peeled and finely sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup red wine (or Fre red alcohol removed wine)
  • 2 – 4 tbsp best quality, aged balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Place the dried mushrooms in a bowl, and cover completely with boiling water. Let stand for ten minutes while you prep all the vegetables. Once the mushrooms have softened, remove from the water with a sieve in a scooping motion. I dont drain the mushrooms because the silt from the mushrooms tends to come with them, so I simply scoop them out of the water they have been softening in.

Place the softened mushrooms in a saucepan, cover with water, and simmer over medium heat for about 15 minutes. Drain and chop roughly. Set aside.

In a large frying pan, over medium heat, melt the butter into the oil. Add the leek, and saute for about 5 minutes, or until the leek has softened, and turned glossy.

Add the fresh mushrooms, half a cup at a time. You want them to saute, and quickly lose their water without becoming soggy. Stir well after every addition, and season with salt and pepper.

About half way through your mushrooms, add the red wine, increase the heat to high, and let the mushrooms absorb the wine and bubble away. It shouldnt take too long for the wine to almost completely evaporate.

Add the rest of the fresh mushrooms, adjusting seasoning, and stirring well. Allow them to saute till almost dry, and then add the balsamic. This will caramelise the mushrooms and bring out their dark sweet quality.

Add the reserved chopped dried mushrooms, adjust seasoning, and allow to cook for about 5 minutes on medium high heat. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed, and set aside until at room temperature.

These mushrooms can be used in pasta, salad, sandwiches – whatever strikes your fancy! They will keep for 3 – 5 days in the fridge, well covered.

Asparagus

  • 1 bunch of asparagus – 6 – 9 stalks if large – if you can get a mixed colour variety, do so – it looks dramatically gorgeous!
  • 1 tbsp lemon oil or olive oil to finish

Prepare the asparagus. Wash clean in running water, and then take each stalk, and snap near the base. It will snap naturally – the base bits can be frozen and used for soup or a pasta sauce base at another time.

Place the asparagus in a large bowl, and cover completely with boiling water. Allow to sit for a few minutes, until the asparagus has turned bright green. This really depends on the thickness of your asparagus – if you are using the thin delicate type, this may only be a few seconds, thicker varieties will need 3 minutes or so.

Remove the asparagus from the boiling water with tongs, and place in an ice water bath immediately. Or place in another bowl, and run very cold water over.

Asparagus blanched in this manner can be dried well, and then frozen until ready to use (up to 3 months), or refrigerated up to 3 days

Cheese Base

  • 100 g + 100 g cream cheese
  • 75 g + 75 g Delice de Bourgogne or other soft white delicate cheese (or cream cheese)
  • 2 x 6 g rounds Crottin de Chavignol (or other good goat’s cheese crottin)
  • 100 g Pecorino al Tartufo (truffled pecorino – or other good pecorino or parmesan)
  • 1 tsp lemon oil (or olive oil)
  • 1 tsp truffle oil (or olive oil)

For the asparagus cheese: Place 100 g cream cheese in a small bowl. Cut the rind off the Delice de Bourgogne (if using), and mash into the cream cheese using a fork. Cut the rinds off the Crottin de Chavignol, and mash the cheese in as well. Add 1 tsp lemon oil or olive oil, and taste. Cover and reserve in the fridge for up to two days.

For the mushroom cheese: Place 100 g cream cheese in a small bowl. Cut the rind off the Delice de Bourgogne (if using), and mash into the cream cheese using a fork. Grate or crumble the Pecorino al Tartufo into the bowl, and mash to combine. Add the truffle oil and taste. Cover and reserve in the fridge for up to two days.

Phyllo Tart Case

  • 1 package phyllo pastry
  • 3 – 5 tbsp butter, browned and melted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Phyllo pastry is very difficult to make by hand because its so thin and delicate. Purchase a good quality phyllo from the store, and treat it well, and you will be fine. Defrost in the fridge for a day before use, or for 2 hours at room temperature. When you unroll the phyllo, place on a board or in a jelly roll pan, and cover with a damp cloth.

Preheat the oven to 170C (350F), and line a baking sheet or jelly roll pan with parchment paper.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and allow it to just brown a bit. This will add immeasurably to the flavour of the finished product. Add the olive oil and mix well. Let come to room temperature.

Place one or two sheets of phyllo pastry on the parchment lined sheet, and brush gently with the butter/oil mixture. Gently place another layer of phyllo over and brush with the butter/oil mixture. Continue until the entire package of phyllo pastry has been finished – usually about 15 – 20 layers. Sometimes I double the layers of pastry between brushes of butter and oil.

Create edges along the sides of the tart by folding inward about an inch, along all four sides. Prick the internal pastry with a fork, gently – otherwise the phyllo will puff up.

Bake in the oven for about 10 – 12 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool to room temperature, and reserve, for up to 2 days, tightly wrapped in the fridge.

Assembly

  • Pre-baked Phyllo Pastry Tart case
  • Asparagus Cheese Mix
  • Mushroom Cheese Mix
  • Asparagus
  • Balsamic Mushrooms
  • Olive oil to finish – or lemon oil (for asparagus) and truffle oil (for mushrooms)

Preheat oven to 170C (350F). Make sure everything is at room temperature.

Look at the tart case. It should be a large rectangle. In your mind’s eye, divide the rectangle up into four quarters. Working from the bottom up, spoon asparagus cheese in the left lower quarter, mushroom cheese in the right lower quarter, asparagus cheese in the upper right quarter, and finish off with mushroom cheese in the upper left quarter.

Layer the asparagus over the quarters which hold the asparagus cheese, and spoon the mushrooms over the mushroom cheese. Finish off with just a little dribble of oil.

Bake for 35 – 45 minutes in the oven, until the cheese is bubbling and burnished, and the pastry is a dark golden brown.

Allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving, or serve at room temperature.

Will keep in the fridge, fully baked, tightly covered, for up to 2 days. Reheat in a gentle oven, covered in tin foil to avoid burning, for about 20 minutes.

Enjoy!

Pushing Boundaries

16 Dec

This week has been a week for the pushing of boundaries in all sorts of ways. Its quite an experience to put oneself out there, and try new things. To expose oneself as one is, to be seen and acknowledged. While I am confident and at ease with my cooking, so far, I have only chosen to share my food with my nearest and dearest – my family and friends. And while people have said to me for ages that I should branch out, and begin to cook on a professional level, the idea, frankly, scared me.

When you cook for those you love, you think about them. You imagine what would interest and titillate their senses. You are aware of their likes and dislikes, the food they adore, and what they avoid. And while I have found cooking to be an extraordinarily personal and powerful expression of my creativity, and my soul joy, I also recognise that when I cook for those who I know and hold dear, I am cooking in a safe way. If it all goes bottoms up, we can always order Indian vegetarian food! πŸ˜‰

Why am I telling you all this? This past Friday, I had dinner at Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio with some very close friends. One of them, GoddessSpouse, started talking to me about baking and providing catering from the recipes I have developed. I nodded in agreement, and told him that I was working my way towards that, albeit slowly. He said, why not start now? He needed a tea break for 12 – 15 people on Tuesday, and he wanted me to do it. Could I? I couldnt think of an excuse, and so I said yes…. well, may be… let me get back to you.

But GoddessSpouse is a smart and clever man. He didnt accept waffling, and just said, OK then, I will see you on Tuesday at 3pm.

I have to say, it scared the bejesus out of me. But in a gooood way. It made me consider my life, look at the choices I have made, and why I made them.

It made me realise that for me, to truly embrace this gift and passion I have, I had to put it out there. My beloved ones, bless them, have always given me such intensely positive feedback. But to share my cooking with those who were not my beloved ones, well that would be a new experience. And as I said, this week seems to be a week of opening myself up to possibility. I had to test myself in the unknown. I had to see how people would react when I shared my passion with them.

It was a tea break, for goodness sake. If I could cook 11 dishes for Thanksgiving in 2 days, for 15 – 18 people, surely I could handle a tea break!

I made a batch of Starry Starry Night cookies, and two small pots of baked artichoke, spinach and parmesan dip (adding a lot more garlic, and some chili to spice it up a bit), served with tortilla chips and sliced carrots and cucumbers. AngelKitten came along to help set up – but also to provide much needed love and support (thank you Kitten). I was nervous, but I found that once it began, once I really settled and took a breath, I found myself.

How was the reaction? Wonderful! The participants ate, and ate, and ate. They loved the food, and they were interested, open and supportive. It was a beautiful experience.

GoddessSpouse turned the process into a learning experience, not only for the participants but for me. It was a small step, but I realised that this was something I could do, with confidence and calmness (eventually), with diplomacy (thanks Ayah!) and with great joy and pride.

Another step towards the life I want for myself. Another experience lived. A further layer of happiness added to the joy of knowing my true self.

Thank you to all of you who pushed my boundaries this week. I appreciate having been able to take that first step in such a safe and supportive space.

 

Mak Manja’s Steamed Orange Juice Healer

13 Dec

My Mak Manja has given me so much in this lifetime – her wisdom, her love, her strength, the sanctuary of her home, her intervention when I had no will… and so much laughter and joy. If I could wish anything for you, it would be for a Mak Manja of your own, who guides you, watches over you and loves you through it all. Of course, I cannot arrange for a Mak Manja for everyone (I believe that’s down to karma and fate!) but… I can share with you this.

The last time she visited, I was getting over the flu. My Mak Manja brought me a gift. A bag of oranges, and some rock sugar. She made herself at home in my kitchen, and she proceeded to prepare me this amazing, blissful, divine orange juice healing potion. Its very simple, and even though I am not sure which natural healing medicine it comes from (Ayurveda? Traditional Chinese Medicine? Natropathy? Or may be just her own instinctual knowledge…), I do know that this juice has extraordinary healing benefits. The orange is steamed, in a covered mug, in a pot. For hours and hours and hours. Well, a minimum of two hours, but really, as long as you can … the result is an elixir which intensifies and concentrates the huge vitamin compounds in the simple orange – vitamin C, folate, vitamin B1, and vitamin A, amongst others.

Drinking this juice is like getting a massive dose of pure, unadulterated love & vitamins – it feels like a supercharged vitamin shot. It goes through you, and suddenly you feel… warm, strong, steady. Full of energy. Nurtured and supported. Its wonderful as a tonic against the cold winter months. And for those with lowered immune systems, or who are recovering from an illness – it is perfect. The gentle application of heat and steam concentrates all the natural goodness in an orange, and give you a massive dose of feel good love. Making this juice for yourself once or twice a week will up your strength and stamina, and will boost your immune system and vital functions.

Its a wonderful gift, because its so easy to make. And it makes you feel so good.

So even though I cant give you your very own Mak Manja, I can give you her recipe. Make it for yourself when you are feeling in need of strengthening and comfort, or better yet, make it for someone you love.

Take one orange. Or two if theyre quite small.

Peel the orange, but leave a little bit of the white pith on. Not all of it, mind you, but may be about half.

Put the orange in a mug. Squish it down. With a knife, make a little hole at the top of the orange, and stuff a few pieces of rock sugar into the orange. If you dont have rock sugar, its OK. Use brown sugar – half a teaspoon or so. Squish the orange down if its small, and add another and repeat.

Cover the mug tightly. I used a little soy sauce dish because it fit exactly, but you could use some aluminum foil. Put the covered mug in a pot which has a lid.

Pour room temperature water into the pot, about half to three quarters of the way up the mug.

Cover the pot, and place over medium low heat on the stovetop. The water will take a while to come to the boil. When it does, turn the heat down to the lowest you can go, and let it simmer for a minimum of two hours, and up to four or five, or even more. Check and top up the water every hour or two. You could also make this in a slow cooker, or in the oven, but I prefer over the stovetop, because thats how I learned it πŸ™‚

Once you have grown tired of waiting for the orange to steam (I usually get impatient by the three hour mark or so), then switch off the heat. Let the water (which should be bubbling) calm down a bit. Use kitchen gloves or a very thick kitchen towel, and lift the mug out of the water. Remove the cover of the mug. You will have very soft, tender oranges, in their own liquid.

Place a sieve over a bowl, and pour the entire contents of the mug into the sieve.

Use a spatula or spoon to mash the orange – it will be spectacularly soft and yielding. Try and mash as much juice out of the steamed orange as possible.

Pour the juice into a glass (it wont be boiling hot – but it will be quite warm), and sip slowly. Drink your fill of love, healing and strength.

A Meal to Remember @ Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio

13 Dec

Sometimes a meal is a symphony of taste and texture and colour … and sometimes, its even more than that. A divine merging of friends and loved ones, family and comfort, intermingled with sublime food, cooked by an artist, with a sense of love and presence and drama. Last Friday night at Nathalie’s Gourmet Studio was like that – just pure joy. With Adi, Goddess, GoddessSpouse, AngelKitten, GoldenOro and Bubby, and MsTina… laughter flowed around us, wrapped us in warmth and happiness, and the food was a beautiful counterpoint to the joy in the room.

You cannot plan that kind of a night, you cant buy it or make it happen by force of will. It is an alchemical merging of all that is good and joyous. Thank you to Goddess + GoddessSpouse for hosting us. And thank you for Nathalie for welcoming us, yet again, with open arms and brilliant skill. We will be back next month! Meanwhile, feast on our memories πŸ™‚

Joy

A potato galette with sauteed mushrooms, and a porcini foam. Simple, sensuous, lively flavours. Not too much, not too little. Just right to start with. This was the vegetarian choice and it made me happy.

A new take on duck liver with brioche – the brioche made into an apple tart tatin. A clever merging of two very French tastes.

Tuna Tartare with blini and chive cream… and a fresh green salad.

Snail napoleon – earthy, rich, beautifully presented. I tasted the accompanying sauces, and they were beautiful. Balanced, imbued with vegetable essence, gorgeous.

The vegetarian main course. Home made egg tagliatelle with green capsicum and a perfect parmesan porcini foam. Subtle and luxurious, elegant and beautiful. Incredibly satisfying.

The duck main course. According to those who ate it, it tasted truly of duck … gamey and wild and delicious. Served with a stunning hazelnut polenta and a blueberry stuffing. Clever and thoughtful all in one go.

Steak. Apparently, it was perfectly cooked. With a stuffed potato on the side. I like how this looks, the juxtaposition of the meat and the potato… Smart.

An intense caramel custard creme brulee – perfectly burnt crispy sugar crust, with a lime and thyme sorbet. What an interesting combination.

Trio of desserts – a pineapple foam, an incandescently good salted caramel macaroon, and a vanilla spoon biscuit, holding chocolate mousse, and a chocolate truffle. Mine!

Frozen chocolate mousse “gift” with a liquid river of raspberries running through it. So so so good. I could have buried myself in this plate and just whuffled.

A dramatic and architectural Mont Blanc – pureed chestnuts, whipped cream and crisp meringue. So beautiful!

Dried fruit croquant – crisp, caramelised, sticky, delectable.