Bread – Part 1

Hot fresh bread – what could be better? I challenge anyone not to be tempted by the hot delicious crust giving way to the fluffy steamy interior, the perfect blend of crunchy softness.

Once upon a time I worked as a baker with my dad. It wasn’t a permanent career move by any means but ever since I have always been drawn to baking my own, yet for some reason I’ve never really given it a go at home – until now.

My favourite breads are crusty, hearty artisan numbers. Even better if they are sourdough. I thought I would start with a basic recipe for a white loaf – yeast, water, sugar, salt, oil and flour.

Making bread is easy, getting the feel for it is another thing all together. Finding the right balance of kneading, proving, re-kneading and baking takes practice, like all things when it comes to food!

This was my 2nd attempt at the basic white bread recipe:

Basic White Loaf

Basic White Loaf

The recipe is simple:

– 1 x packet dried yeast

– 3 cups white plain flour

– 1 1/4 cups water

– 1 tbsp olive oil

– 2 tsp sugar

– 2 tsp salt

Add 1/4 cup warm water to the yeast, cover with a tea towel and allow to rest for 10 minutes. Combine all the dry ingredients in a bowl.

Once the yeast is ready (it will froth) combine with remaining water and slowly add to dry ingredients, mixing with a wooden spoon. Once all the ingredients have combined into a rough dough, slowly add the oil until combined.

Dust the surface and begin kneading (plenty of great resources online on how to do this!) after 5 minutes the dough should feel firm but stretchy, form into a ball. Place into a clean oiled bowl and roll around to coat, covering it with cling film.

Place bowl in a warm place and allow to rise for up to an hour – the dough should at the very least double in size. Punch it down, shape into a loaf, cover in cling film and allow to rest for for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 220 degrees Celsius.

Place a pan with 4 cups of boiling water at the bottom of the oven to generate steam. Cut slits into the top of the loaf and place into the oven on the middle rack – this works better if you pre-heat the pan, just make sure to use baking paper or it will stick! Remove pan of water after 10 minutes then continue to bake for 20-25 more minutes. It’s done when you tap the bottom of the loaf and it sounds hollow. That’s it!

It’s really not as scary as it looks, great thing is if you get it wrong, flour and water are a really cheap combo!

 

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Crispy Skin Barramundi

I’m a stickler for fish with crispy skin. Thanks to some guidance from Gordon Ramsay, once I learnt the technique for it I never really looked back and if we’re being honest, who can blame me?

I’m a massive fan of crispy skin Barramundi in particular. The combination of flaky white flesh with a crispy skin can make a winner out of any meal. For the dish I created, I decided to use parsnips, which in my opinion are massively underrated. If you haven’t tried them before do yourself a favour and either make some fries out of them, or even cut them up and bake them. They really are a nice alternative to potatoes and have a wonderful flavour. On the side I served beans which were inspired by the beans they serve with the pork belly dish at Piato.

This dish is really easy to make, you just need to get your timings right and have everything prepared and ready to go!

Ingredients (serves 2)

– 2 medium Barramundi fillets

– 2 large parsnips

– 1 can white cannelini beans

– 1/2 can crushed tomatoes

– 1 handful diced pancetta

– 1/2 cup cream

– 6 cloves of garlic

– 1 1/2 tbsp butter

– 1/2 cup milk

– cumin

– salt and pepper to taste

First up, get your oven on to 180 degrees and get a medium pot with water on to a boil.

Next, prepare the Barramundi fillets. I like to trim the tail end so it cooks evenly and looks neater but this is up to you. As per Gordon Ramsay’s video I put up earlier, score the skin length wise at very narrow intervals. This will help crisp the skin up. Cover up with cling film and set aside.

Once the oven is preheated, take the garlic cloves, put them on a tray and into the oven for about 15 minutes. Make sure you don’t overcook them or they will literally go off like garlic bombs!

Peel the parsnips and cut them up into small cubes then add them to the boiling water with a pinch of salt. Cook these for 15-20 minutes or until soft then drain.

For the beans, rinse them with water to get rid of the can juices and drain them.

Next, chop the pancetta. I like my pancetta to be quite chunky but if you like smaller pieces this is fine. Add it to a medium hot pan and render the fat out until it starts to become crispy. Add the crushed tomatoes, cream and beans. Simmer for about 10 minutes. The sauce should begin to thicken by this stage.

Once the garlic and parsnips are done, add them to a food processor with a pinch of cumin, butter, milk and salt to taste. You are after a super smooth consistency. Return the puree to the pot and keep it on a super low heat stirring occasionally.

Finally, the Barramundi. Heat up a pan on a medium heat, add a little vegetable oil and place the fish skin side down. You want to watch the flesh turning white until it travels half way up the fillet then turn it over until it does the same. Rest the fish for 5 minutes.

Add a scoop of puree to your plate, place the Barramundi on top then serve the beans on the side. Done!

Crispy Skin Barramundi

Crispy Skin Barramundi

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Fergburger

In the build up to the work ski trip in Queenstown there was one place that kept coming up time and time again in conversation. According to legend, these were the best burgers in town. So naturally, when I got the chance to experience the legendary burgers from Fergurger, I dived right in.

Queenstown - Magic.

As you walk inside the first thing you notice is a wooden plaque that reads “In Ferg We Trust”. Right then, these guys clearly mean business!

"In Ferg We Trust"

"In Ferg We Trust"

My first trip to Fergburger was in the later stages of the night after a considerable amount of drinking. As such, the queues were literally to the footpath and my memories of the burger I had were admittedly a little hazy. So to give a totally fair account of this establishment, I thought it would only be fair to have another one.

As you walk in and take a look at the menu, straight way you notice the unconventional burger names such as “Southern Swine”, “Bun Laden” and “Sweet Bambi”. The burger menu is extensive with a good range of breakfast options as well.

Fresh burgers and beers on tap - what more could you want?

Fresh burgers and beers on tap - what more could you want?

The photos here do not tell the whole story of just how busy this place can get – with the exception of when I came in to order, this place usually has queues all the way to the footpath and they are consistent. It’s absolutely insane. You can be waiting up to 20min for a burger on a busy night.

I decided to order the lamb burger or the “Little Lamby” seeing as we are in NZ after all. It read like this:

“Prime New Zealand lamb, mint jelly, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish”

New Zealand Lamb - Delicious.

New Zealand Lamb - Delicious.

Make no mistake – the burgers here are absolutely massive. Ordering the chips with Aioli was a tactical error as I couldn’t get through even half of them. The burger itself was fantastic. The bun was toasted just right so that it had a touch of crunchiness but was still very soft on the inside. The lamb was cooked medium which is something we don’t see enough of in Aus with our burgers. I think they went a little too heavy on the mint jelly but all the other ingredients were super fresh. All these elements are definitely as you would expect for a place with this sort of reputation.

With an average price of $13 per burger, I would say it’s a little on the steep side of things but one must keep in mind the size of the burger and the quality of the ingredients being used which is what really makes these burgers come together.

Are these the best burgers in Queenstown though? Without a doubt. I would say this place makes better burgers than places such as Burgerme and MUMU grill in Sydney. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it is. Maybe it’s the fact I’m in such a pristine setting, or the fact you can order beer straight from the tap when you place your order. Either way if you are ever in Queenstown, make sure you have a Fergburger.

Fergburger – 42 Shotover Street, Queenstown New Zealand

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Polenta and smoked trout

The weather is definitely still cold enough to warrant indulging in winter warmers. If you’re after a wholesome dish and would like a change from pasta, rice and other starches, look no further than polenta.

An Italian classic, polenta is a dish made with ground cornmeal. It’s consistency is very similar to porridge and can take up to an hour or more to make if employing the traditional methods of preparation. These days, however, you will see great modern interpretations such as grilled polenta slices and golden crispy fried polenta fingers.

I love the fact that polenta is just so hearty and versatile. You can serve it in it’s liquid form with a few succulent lamb sausages resting on top, a generous helping of pasta sauce and parmesan cheese, or sauteed mixed mushrooms and thyme. If you allow it to set in the fridge, you can slice it and grill it to serve with a summer mango salsa or with some grilled sardines. It truly is a wonderful dish.

I was inspired to make a polenta dish as it was long overdue and I hadn’t made any for a long time. I was in the mood for grilling bit but didn’t quite get the inspiration until I found the most beautiful looking smoked trout in the supermarket. Then wham the ideas started flowing. Here’s the recipe:

Ingredients:

150g instant polenta

500ml beef, chicken or vegetable stock

500ml water

1 whole medium smoked trout (You can use smoked salmon or cod if you wish)

1 bunch garlic shoots

1 tbsp butter

The Salad:

1 handful cherry tomatoes

1 pear (you can use any pear you like, I used a bosc pear for added crunchiness)

1/4 red onion

Fresh dill (If you don’t have fresh, just use another fresh herb. Thyme, Sage, Chives, whatever. But try and avoid the dried stuff for this salad)

The Dressing:

1 tsp fermented tofu (you can use mustard if you can’t get your hands on this)

2-3tbsp good quality olive oil

1/2 lime

Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

So, to the polenta first. this will need 5-10 minutes to cook and 20 minutes – 1/2 hour to set in the freezer. Polenta purists out there will be coming after me with burning torches and pitchforks for using instant polenta, but the reality is most of us don’t have the time to make it the traditional way which I will happily admit tastes much better than instant. In saying that, I think the instant stuff does the job just fine for this dish.

Combine the stock and water (you can use just stock if you want more flavour) and bring it to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Grab a whisk and slowly add the polenta until it is all dissolved. Continue to whisk vigorously (make sure to do this, polenta has a nasty habit of sticking) then add the butter (this is optional). You want the consistency to be quite thick and find a fair bit of resistance with your whisk as this will help it set for grilling later. After 6-7 minutes, take it off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes. Make sure you taste it! If need be, add some salt before the next step. (If you want, feel free to grate in some Parmesan cheese or thyme for extra flavour)

Grab a rectangular dish or tray that’s about an inch deep. (Or any shape dish at that – it will simply change the shape of the slices). Line the bottom with glad wrap, pour in all the polenta and spread it out with the back of a spoon so that the surface is as even as possible. you want to have nice slices about 2cm deep so pick the size of the dish accordingly.  Put the dish in the freezer and allow to set for about 20-30 minutes. Remember you don’t want to freeze it, you just want to help it set:

Polenta - Ready to set

Now, to the trout.

Peel the skin off the trout and carefully separate the flesh from the bones. Using a small knife, run the point along the flesh for any bones you might have missed. Set aside. You may need 2 trout as I ended up eating almost all of it. Now if you can’t get whole smoked trout you can used smoked salmon or cod but try and get the whole trout, the flavour is so much better and it’s packed full of those delicious natural oils. You should be able to find them in woolworths.

The garlic shoots are easy – slice them into thirds, then slice the stalks length ways. See, easy!

For the salad, cut the pear in half then length ways (remove the seeds), slice the tomatoes whichever way you like, slice the onion as thinly as possible, separate the dill from the stalk and combine. For the dressing, take 1 tsp of fermented tofu and combine it with the olive oil and lime. Get a fork and mash the fermented tofu until dissolved with the lime and oil then whisk vigorously until you get a lovely emulsification.

Now, to put the whole thing together!

Take the polenta out of the freezer, it should now be quite firm to touch and the whole thing should now be in one solid piece. Cut it into even slices, brush both sides with a little olive oil and set aside.

Pre heat a small pan and a griddle pan (or whichever 2 pans you have). In the small pan, add some olive oil. Once this is hot add the shoots, stirring frequently. The shoots don’t need long – the reason we cook them is to take away the harshness and bring out the sweetness. No more than 5 minutes on a medium heat for these. Add 4-5 pieces of polenta to the griddle pan once you have a nice smoke going.  For the polenta, one you get he nice brown grill marks, turn over. Make sure they don’t stick! Set everything aside.

Now all you need to do is dress the salad and toss it, put a piece of polenta on the plate, top with shoots and a nice piece of trout, add the salad and presto, you should have something that hopefully looks a little something like this:

Polenta, smoked trout and garlic shoots served with a pear and dill salad topped with fermented tofu dressing.

Smoked trout and garlic shoots - killer combo.

All up this dish took no longer than 40 minutes to make and I must say it was delicious – the contrast of the fermented tofu and the pear with the dill bringing it all together, the softness of the polenta, and the sweetness of the trout and garlic shoots made this one of my instant favourites.

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The Magical Properties of Pho

There are few things in this world that have better soul healing properties than a steaming, fragrant, vibrant bowl of Pho.

A Vietnamese classic, this dish is an experience because it puts you through different stages before you eat it. There’s the anticipation as you order and wait for your number to get called out, the nervous moment as you fidget with your condiments and sauces rushing to get back to your table, that satisfying pause as you take a deep breath and inhale the aromas of beef and aniseed then last but not least, the ritual of consuming a bowl of Pho.

For those of you that have never had this before, Pho (for pronunciation, head here) is a Vietnamese rice noodle soup. You get a choice of condiments that you can apply to your own tastes. You usually have a choice of of bean sprouts, Thai basil, chili slices, coriander, hoisin, sriracha, sate (not satay) sauce and lemon (or lime) wedges. This obviously varies depending where you go!

How you introduce these ingredients is what separates the Pho experience from eating any other soup. You can virtually change the texture and flavour profile with every mouthful. You like it crunchy with an evil heat? Add more bean sprouts, chili slices and sate sauce. You want it more aromatic? Throw in extra Thai basil and coriander. You can order a selection of meat, beef balls, chicken or seafood again, depending where you go to eat it.

Some people like throwing in all the condiments at once and plow through the whole thing. I am very particular in the way I eat mine.

The first thing I do is ask for no coriander as sadly I am not a fan of the stuff. I always order beef and beef balls. I like to add a drizzle of lemon, rip up a good handful of Thai basil then pour hoisin and sriracha into separate containers. The reason I do this is I like to pour a little bit of both on to the rice noodles as I collect them with my chop sticks. Sometimes, it’s only sriracha. Sometimes, it’s only hoisin. This might seem a little strange, but I cannot and will not do anything that compromises the sheer brilliance of the broth. This, in my opinion, is the absolute heart and soul of any good Pho.

Since there are no good Pho places near where I live (unless someone knows of a good Pho place on the northern beaches?) I embarked on a quest to make my own. Making the broth is something that needs time in order to extract the flavours from the oxtail and beef shin. Luckily, I had a little help from Jenny over at MusingsandMorsels with the recipe.

So how did it turn out? I thought it was a worthy first effort. I’m confident that after a few more tries, I’ll have a version worth staying at home for!

Pho with all the trimmings

Pho - fixes the soul.

If you haven’t had a chance to try this wonderful dish, do yourself a huge favour and try it. A word of advice – this dish requires you to really get involved in order to get the most out of it. If there’s no sweating, slurping or splashing, you’re not doing it right!

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Strictly Morsels

Sometimes you just feel like a feast. Lashings of all the good stuff, with all the trimmings. But one must be realistic and understand there is not enough time to eat all the things you want in one sitting. Mind you, we did our very best.

I got together with the girls at MusingsandMorsels to put together a feast of sorts. We brainstormed a few ideas and decided we wanted duck. And we wanted sliced cold meats. And we wanted, er, well, lots of other things. But at least the lebanese sweets made it on the day. Sadly, we missed out on beans, but they will have their day in the sun.

I also got to try a bizarre looking (and smelling) fruit by the name of Durian. Tasted almost like a creamy fruity custard. Apparently I got lucky as the stuff can really stink, but that’s a bullet I am happy to dodge for now.

So, to the feast. We started off with a selection of cold meats accompanied by some manchego cheese from Spain.

Meats - so many meats.

We had a lovely selection of Presswurst, Coppa, Polish Salami and a Mortadela style meat. The Presswurst was a textural delight, gelatinous and meaty. The Coppa and Polish Salami were delicious. The Mortadela style meat was also a highlight, with a great tinge of lemon through it.

Next we moved on to the red wine sausage. This thing was outstanding. Sauteed and finished off with a bit of lemon at the end, the sausage had great robust meaty flavours and a good balance of herbs and spices.

Red Wine Sausage - Sauteed, finished off with a drizzle of lemon.

After a much needed break, we moved on to the ‘entree’. Seared tuna with stuffed cucumber:

Seared tuna with stuffed cucumber

The cucumber stuffing was made up of sour cream, spring onions, chives and some lime juice. The soy dressing was made up of soy sauce, sesame oil, chili oil and lime juice. On the side I also mixed up some mayonnaise and hot English mustard for a bit of a kick.

Last but not least, duck leg served with a roast garlic and parsnip puree, artichokes, baby beetroot and finished off with cherry sauce. A combination I had never tried or heard of but one that worked really well.

Roasted duck leg, roast garlic and parsnip puree with a touch of cumin, baby beetroot topped off with sour cream and chives, pan fried artichokes and a drizzle of cherry sauce.

Roasted duck leg, roast garlic and parsnip puree with a touch of cumin, baby beetroot topped off with sour cream and chives, pan fried artichokes and a drizzle of cherry sauce.

We finished off with some lebanese sweets. There was the usual fare plus a cream filled variety I’ve never had before. Yep, had way too many of them and had to fight off a food coma on the drive home.

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Lamb Shanks and Lentils

Lamb shanks are definitely up there in my top 5 winter dishes. You get the beautifully braised lamb shank which should be falling right off the bone. You also usually get a rich glistening sauce that you can slurp off just about anything. Forks, spoons, bone, plate and fingers. Quite often you will see it served on a bed of creamy fluffy mash potato, though there are many other variations out there.

You see, this is one of those dishes that I absolutely love diving into. In fact the only reason I use cutlery is that scooping mashed potato up with your hands is taking things a little too far. Just.

Lamb Shanks are very easy to make and the end result is just superb. A word of warning though – this is not a quick dish to make. You will need at least 2-3 hours to allow the shanks to braise to the point where the meat falls apart when pressed between your fingers.

I made a variation that uses lentils and Pancetta. You will need:

4 x Frenched Lamb Shanks (get these from your local butcher)

6 Cloves of garlic, sliced thin

1 leek

Beef Stock (about 1 litre)

Red Wine( about 500ml)

1 Brown onion

2 Carrots

1 Cup button mushrooms

2 Cans lentils, rinsed and drained

Generous handful of pancetta, sliced

3-4 tbsp plain flour

3 tbsp vegetable oil

Salt and Pepper to taste

Start off by slicing the garlic, onions, carrots and 1/2 the leek. Cut the mushrooms in half and set aside.

Get the biggest pot you can find, get it on a high heat and add the vegetable oil. The aim here is to brown the shanks to extract the most flavour from the lamb. Get the oil nice and hot until it starts smoking and brown off the shanks in batches if you have to. Set aside.

As soon as you take out the shanks add the onions, leeks and garlic. Cook these off for about 2-3 minutes until they have softened slightly. Add the flour 1 tbsp at a time, mixing well. Cook this off for about 2-3 minutes.

(I’m not much for using precise measurements unless I am baking. As a guide though, feel free to use the measurements I have provided).

Add the red wine and allow it to reduce for 5 minutes or so, mixing well. Add the beef stock then check for seasonings. You may want to add a bit of salt and pepper at this stage.

Arrange the lamb shanks so that they fit as flat as possible at the bottom of the pot. Add the carrots and mushrooms. If the liquid does not cover the shanks, add water until it just covers everything. Pop the lid on and turn the heat right down.

Now, we wait.

You want to give it 2-3 hours, this should be enough for the meat to break down.

If you feel like it, after 2 hours you can take 1 cup of the gravy out, strain it of all solids, pour it into a smaller pan and let it reduce on a medium heat until you get a thick syrup. it should take around 20 minutes. Add a bit of thyme if you like. This will become your jus and if you have never tried doing this before, it will blow your taste buds mind.

For the lentils, get a pan nice and hot. Throw in the pancetta right away, let some of those fats render out. When it’s brown going on crispy, add the rest of the leek and the remaining sliced garlic. After 2-3 minutes, add the lentils and cook through for a few more minutes, finish off with salt and pepper to taste.

You can serve the carrots and mushrooms if you like but I generally strain them out. Hopefully, you will end up with a succulent lamb shank and delicious lentils.

Lamb Shanks served with lentils, garlic, pancetta and leeks. Finished with a drizzle of Lamb Jus.

You will have a fair bit of leftover gravy. Do NOT throw this out!

Strain it of all solids, pour it into a plastic container and allow it to cool in the fridge. Remove the fat solids from the top and voila, you now have a wonderful base you can use for a Jus or for a gravy.

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