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Saturday, December 22, 2012


We always have fresh dates for Christmas. Great mounds of them piled high in fancy bowls alongside fresh cherries and all the nut varieties: hazels, walnuts, brazil and monkeys. A colourful display of Christmas fare and one that always seems a little decadent yet irresistible to me.

Fresh dates stuffed with an almond or walnut make an excellent hors d'oeuvre (little savoury appetisers) served with drinks. Substituting perfumed almond paste takes them to another level and straight into the petit four department. Excellent with a strong coffee after dinner or lunch.


20 fresh dates, pitted
225gm almond powder
110gm caster sugar
½ teaspoon orange blossom water
1//8 teaspoon cinnamon powder
2 tablespoons of butter - Lescure is a great French butter worthy of its cost for this recipe

Cream the butter and sugar with an electric hand whisk until it is pale and the sugar is incorporated well into the butter with no grainy bits felt on the tongue at taste. A wooden spoon works just as well but requires plenty of elbow grease.

Add the other ingredients and combine well together.

Stuff each date with a little paste. And place in the refrigerator until ready to serve.


Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Christmas tapa

On the lookout for something fishy and tasty to serve with drinks this Christmas I remembered a tapa we had in San Sebastian this summer. The above tapa is just about perfect considering there's nothing more fitting than prawns for Christmas in Australia. 

Place, in any order, on a short wooden skewer: a stuffed olive or two, half a tinned artichoke heart, two cooked prawns and a small piece of smoked salmon. Glisten the made up tapas with a little olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

mocking up

Here we go, even the humble pollock fish is now doing some impersonating. It's become the great stand in for baby eels, sometimes called elvers and called angulas in Spain. It's been going on for years and thank goodness as the real eels are very overpriced and just about impossible to find. A sad reflection on changing ocean habitat and over fishing.

Young fresh eels of about 2-3 years and about three inches long are the thickness of a spaghetti strand and if you could find them in the fish markets they would fetch well over 1,000 Euros per kilo. But, having said that, authentic angulas can still be found in cans but are of course very expensive and not anything like their fresh counterpart.

Come in the 'gulas' made of pollock fish. Pollock is fished in both European and Alaskan waters
and turned into mock angulas then renamed, gulas. This product is readily available all over Spain and some parts of France. In both countries they are sold in cans, jars and vacuum packs. Auchan, the big supermarket chain in France, sells gulas but that is the only place I could find them. 

I've eaten mock gulas on countless tapas without knowing there was anything mock about them. So if they do taste anything like the real thing, as I have read they do, then that's okay by me. They are delicious.

Gulas are served on diagonal sliced bread and topped with a little mayonnaise and charred red pepper slices. This is a common tapa/pintxos in Spain and especially in the Basque country. See my recipe for this under TAPAS.

Wanting a change and wanting to bring out the true flavour of my mock friends I tried the following:

Makes 8 tapas:

1 clove garlic finely sliced
1 small fresh red chilli finely sliced
1 tablespoon grape-seed oil
8 heaped tablespoons gulas


Heat a small frying pan, add the oil, heat it and cook the garlic and chilli for a few minutes until softened then add the gulas. Toss all the ingredients together until everything has warmed though.

Twist the eels onto the prongs of a fork and carefully prise them off onto an “Asian” serving spoon. Continue until they are all used up. Sit the spoons in shallow bowls for support as they are inclined to slip off. The gulas tapa presented like this look striking served on coloured spoons.

The warming process, with the addition of garlic and chilli, brings out the flavour and leaves a more  succulent taste and texture in the mouth. 

Good luck finding gulas in your country but don't despair if you don't live in Spain. I have seen them in tins way over here in Australia, namely in the department store David Jones and in some Spanish outlet stores. I've seen 'real' angulas in tins here too. If buying the tins check whether they are gulas or angulas. The price difference is enormous.

Friday, November 16, 2012

tomato, quail egg & goat's curd tapa

A tapa with a difference!

This is a simple yet delicious little dish that can be put together quickly. Allow at least 45 minutes from start to end for draining and cooking. They can be served at room temperature if you need to make them in advance otherwise serve them straight from the oven.

Serves: 6


6 small tomatoes but not cherry tomatoes - they are too small
1 x 200gm goat's curd
6 quail eggs
50gm unsalted butter
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
Any little green leaf for garnish


Cut a tiny slice off the top of each tomato so they are able to sit up without rolling over. Cut another slice off the base end of each one and remove the seeds and membrane with a small spoon.

Leave the tomatoes to drain thoroughly, upside down, on kitchen paper for at least 30 minutes.

Fill each tomato with a spoonful of soft goat's curd, to about the three quarter mark.

Crack a quail egg into the top of each tomato.

Grease a small overproof pan and place the six tomatoes inside.

Bake at 180C until the quail egg is set. Roughly this takes about 6-7 minutes but watch them closely. You don't want to overcook the eggs.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a small pan and cook until just on browning point. Don't let it burn. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Place the tomatoes on little dishes. Drizzle with hot butter, sprinkle with sea salt and a few grindings of black pepper, add the garnish and serve immediately.

I like to provide small (children's) cutlery with hot tapas even though and in this case, the whole tomato can be placed in the mouth.

NB. If goat's curd is unavailable substitute with a small piece of goat's cheese.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

pimientos del piquilla tapas

The very mention of the name Pimientos del Piquilla has one watering at the mouth. These tiny peppers, about 8 centimetres in length, grow along the Ribera river flats in the Navarra region of northern Spain. An area well known to pilgrims on the camino, the way of St James. It's the first valley on their long trail to Santiago after they leave the Roncesvalles pass in the mighty Pyrénées.

The peppers are wood fired, skinned, seeded and marketed as a preserve. But, the intensive manual labour doesn't come cheap in the processing plant - woman are employed to scrape away every last piece of charred skin.

The raw peppers impart a bitter taste but once charred coal black their flesh acquires an exquisite flavour and their true characteristic becomes apparent. Transformed they become sweet, succulent and aromatic.The smokey tang from the wood fire and the spicy hot nature of these small, dark, heart shaped, red peppers compliment many ingredients. They have become an essential component in the world of the tapa.

The wonderful thing about making up tapas is you don't need to stick to specifics. Do your own thing, mix and match. Here I've opted for a pretty traditional and typical tapa found all over Spain. But not in a position to have Jamon Serrano or Jamon Iberico at my fingertips here in Australia I've substituted prosciutto and really, they are just as delicious. Well, almost...well maybe not quite.


French bread stick cut on the diagonal
Pimientos del Pequilla or substitute charred, skinned and seeded red capsicum
white anchovy
brown anchovy
quail egg - optional

Note: Pimientos del Piquilla are very low on the Scovill scale count (the chilli richter scale). In other words, they are not hot.

(photographs taken in our kitchen in the Hunter Valley)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

tapa celebration

The food vine cannot congratulate itself for many posts since April I'm afraid, the evidence being as plain as day. And there I was thinking five months in France would allow me the leisure time I was so looking forward to: to cook, read and write. Oh how I wish.

But the flip side in lacking time to express my culinary leanings meant spending many precious days with old and new friends, returning to San Sebastian, twice, our favourite city and getting to know a little bit about Corsica, a new love in our lives.

Now back in Australia, France seems a whole world away. It's back to busy days at our property in the Hunter Valley, back with fresh thoughts on food blogging and back with the early beginnings of
a new book in my head. No, not SECOND or LAST, this one's about the Basque country.

I gave San Sebastian a reasonable mention in my cookbook FIRST so while it's still in my mind I thought I'd start the next phase on the food vine with tapas. I'd love to say a tapa a day but that might be pushing it.

The world of miniature food is not just synonymous with Spain. It's spread across all cultures – Greece, the Middle East, north Africa, Asia, Japan and as far away as Scandinavia - and so on. It seems they all have their own version of small dishes in a different guise to that of the tapa but they amount to the same thing. But, standing in bars may not be one of them. No matter the culture miniature food can be anything from simple appetisers to an elaborate range of preparations forming an entire meal. The parallel is we all love eating this way.

But we give credit to the Spanish who have put miniature food on the world map with their tapas, or pintxos/pinchos as they are called in the Basque county. Locals and tourists alike make personal pilgrimages to their favourite bars and not to just one. Bar crawling is part of the ritual.

The informality of a loud and buzzy bar is very appealing. No standing on ceremony, no dress rules, eating as much or as little as one likes. Personally selecting mouthfuls of delicious food from a sea of tiny, savoury morsels punctuated only with glasses of cool, delicious Spanish wine is as good as it gets.

Tapas need not be traditional. There's a whole host of bars now competing for first prize in the modern tapa movement. The reinvention of the traditional tapa with innovation and style at affordable prices is where San Sebastian comes into its own. Bars such as Borda Berri, Zeruko, A Fuego Negro and La Cuchara de San Telmo are to name a few. Here are their addresses in the old city, the Parte Vieja, just in case you get there before me:

Borda Berri: 12 Fermin Calbeton
Zeruko: 10 Calle Pescaderia
La Cuchara de San Telmo: 28 Corredor San Telmo off Calle Agosto
A Fuego Negro: 31 Calle de Agosto

My love of Spain, its culture, food and wine is a fine way to celebrate the food vine's fourth birthday posting. I've gone for a modern bent, not a traditional one.


one big, fat scallop without coral per head
1 slice of prosciutto per head
Dash of grape-seed oil for the pan
1 x quarter cauliflower broken into florets
salt and white pepper
2 tablespoons thick cream
A little garnish of your choice
Extra virgin olive oil to garnish
Sea salt to garnish


Steam the cauliflower for 10-15 minutes until soft, remove from heat.
Place the cauliflower in a food blender with the cream, salt and pepper and whizz to achieve a smooth purée.

Wrap a slice of prosciutto around the middle of each scallop and secure with a toothpick. You may need to cut the prosciutto to size so it completely covers the sides of the scallop. Remove any straggly ends.

Heat a frying pan then add the oil. Sear the scallops on each side until they are cooked, two the three minutes. You might need to turn them on their sides using a circular motion to ensure the prosciutto is cooked all the way round.

Smear a little cauliflower purée onto a gleaming white plate, place the scallop on top.
Garnish with a herb flower, salt salt and drizzle a tiny amount of extra virgin olive oil over the top.

(photograph taken in our kitchen in south west France)

Monday, October 1, 2012

on the grape vine

I was quite taken by a tiny grape vine at a friend's home in south west France just recently. It stretched across a single wire between two small posts, groaning with luxurious plump bunches. It looked happy and content nestled against the side of my friend's house. Perfectly positioned to capture the warmth of the southern sun with an uninterrupted view of the Pyrenees.

I was captivated by the size of the vine, its massive crop and the freshness of the fruit, only moments from harvest. How could I have not noticed this before, just walked by?

The story was soon relayed to me. Alex (my friend) planted the vine several years ago. It was a present from her sister, Charlie. Bought by Charlie at Hampton Court Palace on one of those rare plant sale days. Charlie knew full well Alex would tend it, love it and appreciate its extraordinary history.

This very grape vine is a cutting from the original grape vine planted at Hampton Court Palace in England in 1769 by Lancelot “Capability” Brown. To me, this is mind boggling!

Capability's legacy has spread as far as south west France! His grapes are growing strong here, year in, year out and have even found their way to my table. How glad I am I spotted the tiny vine growing in Alex's garden and asked the question.

We devoured the bunch (above photo) Alex gave us and we savoured each and every grape. Indulging ourselves as we did so in the romance of the past and with grateful thanks to her, to Charlie and to Capability and to those in between who have cared enough to preserve this precious, living, important monument from our past.

Alex's home in south west France is also a B&B. If you love great food and great comfort with stunning views look no further. Find Alex's details at If you look carefully, on the very far left of the house, in the photograph on the website's front page, you can just see this precious vine.

The following notes from might be of interest:

The Great Vine in the Hampton Court Palace Gardens is the oldest and largest known vine in the world. Here's what the palace staff have to say about this remarkable grapevine:
The Great Vine is more than 230 years old and 36.5 meters (120 feet) long. It is believed to have been planted by Lancelot "Capability" Brown around 1768, during his time as Surveyor to George III's Gardens and Waters. The vine is also the oldest plant in the palace gardens, having come from a small cutting at Valentine's Park in Essex (which no longer survives)
The Great Vine was first planted in a glasshouse built to house Queen Mary's collections of exotics from the tropics. Its roots were planted outside, and its branches were trained inside the glasshouse, which measured 18 by 4 meters (60 by 13 feet). By the 1790s, the vine was thriving so much that the glasshouse had to be lengthened by a further 3.5 meters or 11½ feet.
In 1800, the girth of the trunk was 330 mm or about 1 foot. In 1887, it was already 1.2 meters or 4 feet around the base; today, it measures 3.65 meters or 12 feet around the base. Its longest rod is 36.5 meters or 120 feet.
The current aluminum Vine House was built in 1969. It incorporates wrought-iron Victorian supports. The rebuilding was unique as it was the first time a glasshouse was built around a plant. Both the frame that supports the Vine and the viewing gallery (still used by the general public) come from a 19th Century wooden vine house.
The Vine was first shown to the public in the 1840s when Queen Victoria opened the gardens to the public.
The Vine usually blossoms in early May with small and fragrant flowers.
The crop is usually harvested in September. It takes the Vine Keeper around three weeks to remove all the grapes. The crop averages 500 to 700 bunches of grapes that weigh 220 to 320 kg (507 to 705 lb). The largest recorded crops of grapes from the Vine were 1,800 bunches in 1798 and 2,245 bunches in 1807.
The grapes, which are black and sweet, have always been used by the Royal household as dessert grapes. In 1930, however, George V started sending the grapes to hospitals, and within five years they were being sold to palace visitors. Today, the full crop of black eating grapes is sold to visitors in the palace shops in late summer or early autumn.
In 1933, the grapes were 6 shillings per pound. A shilling of this went towards the baskets in which they were sold. These baskets were specially made by soldiers blinded in the First World War.

Friday, August 24, 2012

take heart.....

 the Food Vine will be back but just a little later than expected!
 see you in September.....

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Wellington's beef

Beef Wellington is a simple dish to make but there are cooks out there who just won't attempt it. I suppose it's the thought of ruining a whole fillet of beef in just one go. The expense of it AND not just the beef but the dinner too – there's the chance the whole evening could go down the gurgler.

But, for those who dare, the following method is pretty much a foolproof way to successfully cook and present one of the world's classiest and classic dishes.

Take your whole fillet and trim it of any excess fat and any white sinewy pieces. If there's a skinny piece at one end cut it off and save it for another day. The beef fillet should be of even thickness throughout.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a pan and sear the beef all over. This means all sides and both ends. Do this quickly then remove the beef onto a plate. Paint the top and sides with mustard of your choice and place in the refrigerator to cool.

Now comes the decision of what you would like to include in the pastry along with the meat. You could use a smooth paté and some sliced mushrooms or one or the other. Some spinach would be good for colour, too. If you choose to include mushrooms whizz about 500gm of them up in a food processor then sweat them in a pan with no oil until the water evaporates.

Lay a large piece of cling film on the bench and gather the chosen ingredients around you .

Lay as many slices of prosciutto on top of the cling film, short ends facing you, so they will cover the entire length of the fillet.

Spread, alternating layers of paté/or/and mushrooms and fresh spinach leaves all over the prosciutto.

Lay the whole fillet on top and roll up with the aid of the cling film.

Twist the ends of the cling film, torchon style, as tight as you can and put it in the fridge for 1 hour or over night.

Remove the fillet from the fridge.

Lay a piece of cling film on the bench. Lay a sheet of puff pastry on top of the cling film large enough to enclose the whole fillet or if necessary join two/four sheets of pastry together so it is big enough. Lay the unravelled fillet on top of the pastry. Roll the fillet up in the pastry as tightly as possible, torchon style, using the cling film as an aid and place in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

Place a piece of greased baking paper on a flat oven tray. Unravel the fillet from the cling film, lay it on the papered tray and make some attractive decorations on the top with a sharp knife (optional).

Brush the fillet with egg wash and sprinkle a little sea salt on top.

Cook on 190C for 35 mins or until the pastry is brown

Rest the cooked fillet for 10 – 15 mins. Slice and serve.

Friday, May 4, 2012

heirloom tomatoes with lemon and caper dressing

What has the world come to when the only good tomato with any taste at all is one we've grown ourselves or bought from a farmer's market. The past couple of decades has seen emerge new and exciting foods, rare and unusual products, extraordinary cooking techniques, a bombardment of exotic recipes. The food revolution with its celebrity chefs hasn't exactly passed us by yet we still can't find a good tomato.

My heirloom tomato recipe below with lemon and caper dressing is a taste sensation but please only make this if you have access to sweet, perfect tomatoes. There is nothing like them. Supermarket ones will not do this justice.


2-3 handfuls heirloom tomatoes,
2 lemons, peeled to the bare fruit (all pith removed), filleted with the membranes squeezed and juice reserved

Dressing ingredients:

2 tablespoons spring onions, chopped
2 tablespoons salted baby capers, washed and drained
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
100ml extra virgin olive oil


Mix together the dressing ingredients and lastly add the lemon segments taking care not to break them up. Carefully mix the dressing through the cut tomatoes. Sprinkle with a little sea salt and serve immediately.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

berry roulade

This is pretty much a fool proof way to make a roulade but watch your oven temperature does not exceed 17OC. You don't want the meringue to brown too quickly. Overcooking the meringue gives a brittle result causing cracks to appear once rolled.

Serves: 6-8

Ingredients for roulade:

6 egg whites
1.25 cups caster sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons icing sugar
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

Ingredients for filling:

1 cup double cream
2 punnets of berries: blueberries, raspberries
2 tablespoons grated dark chocolate

Method for roulade:

Preheat the over to 170C. Line a Swiss-roll pan with buttered baking paper.

Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add half the caster sugar then beat in the remaining caster sugar until stiff, glossy peaks form. Fold in the cornflour and lemon juice.

Spread the meringue evenly in the prepared pan. Bake for 20 minutes or until pale golden, allow to cool for 1 hour. Place another sheet of baking paper the same size on the work surface and dust with icing sugar and cocoa powder. Turn the meringue onto the baking paper. Carefully remove the top sheet of paper.

For the filling:

Beat the cream until soft peaks form. Spread the cream over the meringue. Evenly place the fruit on the cream and grate the chocolate over the top.

Use the paper to help roll up the meringue from the short end. Once rolled, dust with a little extra icing sugar. Ease the roulade, seam side down, onto a serving dish and refrigerate for one hour or until ready to serve in thick slices.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

ricotta cakes

Use your imagination to restyle a traditional serving of a classic dish.

A thick slice of baked ricotta loaf makes an ideal presentation for lunch but for a change use a fluted pastry cutter. The loaf, scaled down, becomes an appealing starter instead.

Ingredients: (serves 6 sliced or 10 little cakes)

3 eggs
750g full fat ricotta
400g grated parmesan, freshly grated
6 springs lemon thyme, leaves picked
Extra virgin olive oil
Roast tomatoes halves or whole TINY cherry tomatoes
Basil oil
Black olives, pitted (tiny ones for cakes)


Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly whisk eggs in a large bowl and stir in ricotta. Mix in the parmesan, thyme and season well. Grease a loaf tin with olive oil and spoon in the mixture. Place the loaf tin in a large baking tray and pour in the water so it comes half way up the sides of the loaf tin. Bake approximately 45-50 mins, test with a skewer or until ricotta is firm and golden brown – a piece of foil may be required on top if it browns too quickly.

Remove from the water bath VERY CAREFULLY and allow to cool to room temperature. Invert onto a serving plate and refrigerate until cold.

To serve: cut thick slices from the loaf. Cut circles from the slices, using a fluted pastry cutter. Place the cakes onto individual plates, top with tiny confit tomatoes and tiny olives, a sprig of basil and a few drops of basil oil on the side.

Tomatoes & Olives:

Preheat the oven to 150C . Place a handful of tiny/or normal sized cherry tomatoes and a handful of olives onto an oven tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle with sea salt, a teaspoon sugar and fine slices of garlic from one clove. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove and cool.

Basil Oil:

A quick way to flavour herb oil is to blanch a handful of fresh basil or other herbs, leaves only, then whizz them in an electric food chopper with a little oil. Strain the liquid into a jug and use as directed. Discard any remaining oil after use.

Note: Do not attempt to serve these little cakes hot. The loaf needs to be cold or very cool for sharp, clean cutting. A zap in the microwave might be a good idea if you prefer a little warmth.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

curse of the canapé

I love eating tasty little mouthfuls of delicious food then I get to try everything, well almost everything, at someone else's cocktail party. But my patience wears thin when we have a party of our own and I have to make them myself. All that work and they're devoured in a flash.

Stuck for an idea today and a promise to bring a plate I suddenly remembered a simple recipe for pesto balls. I say simple and they are if you have a food processor and what I call a blitz machine. A small electric food chopper. If you don't happen to have either buy minced chicken and very finely chop everything else by hand.

Ingredients: 35 x 3cm diameter balls

700gm chicken (I used breast) minced in a food processor
1 small to medium onion, blitzed
3 cloves of garlic , blitzed
100gm pine nuts, blitzed
4 slices white bread, crumbed (processed)
3 tablespoons parmesan cheese, grated
2 tablespoons fresh basil, finely chopped
Half teaspoon white pepper, ground
Half teaspoon black pepper , ground
Plain flour to dust
Oil for frying – grape seed, canola or sunflower


Blitz and process each ingredient separately and combine together in a large bowl, expect the flour and oil.

With wet hands roll the ingredients into 3cm sized balls. Dust in flour, shaking off the excess and cook for 5 minutes in enough hot oil to cover the pan. Shake the pan frequently, rolling the balls for even browning. When cooked through drain on kitchen paper.

Pile the pesto balls hot or cold on a plater with a small bowl of chilli sauce for dipping, on the side.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

berry timbale with passionfruit coulis

This is lovely fresh dessert, easy to make with an impressive result. The following recipe makes 6 x 125ml (half cup) capacity dariole moulds. I use Queen's (chocolate) Writing Fudge to seal in the coulis. You could, if you are proficient at making a paper piping bag, with a very fine nozzle, melt down a small chocolate bar instead. Cold plates are essential for serving.


125g fresh raspberries
250g fresh blueberries

Orange Jelly ingredients:

300ml orange juice (strained) - zest reserved to candy
100ml clear apple juice
6 gelatin leaves or 1 tablespoon edible gelatin powder slacked in 100ml water (sets 400ml liquid, including the 100ml used to slacken)
20ml Grand Marnier liquor
50g sugar


Soften the gelatin leaves in cold water and squeeze out excess or slacken powder in water as above.

Place everything in a small saucepan except the Grand Marnier, boil for 1 minute.
Remove from heat, add Grand Marnier and set aside to cool.

Fill the Dariole moulds to the top with layers of berries and pour over the jelly. Place in fridge until set, cover with cling film, setting time is several hours or overnight if preferred.

Passionfruit Coulis:

4 medium size passionfruit
1 orange, juiced (zest reserved to candy)
40g icing sugar
25ml water (extra may be needed later for thinning purposes)


Boil for 2-3 minutes and strain. Add a drop more water if the coulis is too thick. Set aside in a squeezy bottle or small jug

Candid Orange Zest:

Blanch zested peel in boiling water from cold water starts and refresh in cold water. Repeat three times. This takes away the bitterness while softening the zest at the same time.

Method &Ingredients:

Place zest in a small saucepan with 1 tablespoon sugar, 30ml water, 1 tablespoon liquid glucose. Cook for 3 minutes until transparent. Strain and set aside.

Note: the zested peel of a lime could be added for colour

To Serve:

Draw a nice design of your choice with the writing fudge, fill in the centre with the coulis. Upturn the dariole moulds (briefly run the bottom of each one under a very hot tap to release). Place the candid peel on top of the moulds and dust a little sieved icing sugar.

Note: the peel is not visible in the photograph, sorry!

Thursday, March 15, 2012

figs with goat's cheese & prosciutto

'As fresh as a sailor home from the sea' was an advertising slogan for fresh eggs at a local garage where we grew up. Even as a youngster I wondered just how fresh a sailor might be having been at sea for any length of time!

Despite my suspicions of freshness those words still ring in my head and they certainly did and do conjure up a salty sea breeze, wind in my hair, sand between my toes and the wild, rugged, beautiful, remote coastline that we call home. So, the slogan worked!

Today's post is nothing to do with eggs instead it's all about figs especially if consumed straight from the tree; when they certainly are 'as fresh as a sailor home from the sea'.

Figs are divine, delectable and delicious and a lovely way to serve them is to simply make two incisions across the top, squeeze them just a little to plump up the flesh, place a spoonful of fresh goats cheese into each cavity, wrap a slice of prosciutto around the bottom of each one, drizzle a little honey and lime juice over the top, and finally a grinding or two of cracked black pepper finishes the dish. Serve immediately.

Some ingredients are just meant to be together and the above is no exception. First, we eat with our eyes, then there's the moment of taste when the brain tells us this is a marriage made in heaven!

Monday, March 5, 2012

words on wine!

Anyone living in Australia will soon tell you that we are experiencing the wettest summer in living memory and anyone who grows grapes in Australia (like we do) will soon tell you what this wet summer has meant to their harvest. For us, personally, we lost them all.

Grape farming like any other farming has its challenges but despite the frustration of this year's non harvest we have had many great years and produced many great wines. No matter the weather we all still love to grow, harvest, produce and drink great wine and for the cooks amongst us it plays an integral and important role in the craft we all love so much.

So, on a positive note I thought you might like to read a few words on the topic of wine from the cookery writer, Anne Willan - published in 1989.

The photographs were taken at our own harvest last year at Broke Road Vineyard.

Wine can mellow to a remarkable richness when it is simmered in sauces, braises and stews. To avoid a raw taste, it must always be thoroughly reduced during cooking, red wine by half and white wine by even more. First, the alcohol evaporates, then the wine concentrates so the finished dish is rich and mellow. This evaporation may be an integral part of the cooking process, as in the long cooking of a casserole or the simmering of a brown sauce. At other times the wine is reduced on its own, as when red wine is used to deglaze pan juices for a steak.

The quality of the wine used will be reflected in the result. It would not, however, make sense to sacrifice rare or expensive wine in the cooking pan. One quality which will not survive cooking is the sparkle of champagne or similar wines, although a little of the sparkle may survive in uncooked dishes such as champagne sorbet.

The role of fortified wines is different to the above. They are typically added at the end of a cooking process, and the alcohol in them, which will not have been boiled off, remains potent. In fact their use may be a case of 'wine in cooked dishes' rather than 'wine in cookery'. A spoonful of sherry added to a soup just before it is served is not subjected to cooking, although it certainly has its effect on the soup. The Italian fortified wine Marsala is sometimes the best choice for deglazing pan juices.

Wines are also added as an ingredient to marinades. The effect of the wine is then produced before cooking but the effect of the cooking on this use of wine together with the other marinade elements is not significant to the finished dish”.

My own most used use of wine in cookery is for deglazing the pan, usually with a fortified wine or verjuice, green grapes harvested just before veraison (the stage at which the colour turns, generally two months before harvest) - this wine is especially good for chicken or fish. I also love to make herb and wine infusions for lamb, chicken, veal, rabbit, beef and pork – they provide multiple uses as poaching liquids, stocks, marinades and sauces.  The list of recipes and methods for the use of wine in cookery is endless as is the subject. Meanwhile, ENJOY!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

good health!

What could be more tasty and good for you than grated raw beetroot, a scattering of salad seeds, a dollop of creme fraiche, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and some chopped green parsley?

Simple, healthy, fresh and delicious!

Sweet potatoes chips are so easy to make. Cut them into any length you fancy, mix through a couple tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, season with Maldon sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place on a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray. Bake for 20 minutes on 190C.

Kale is loaded with vitamins A and C, folic  acid, calcium and iron - it's attractive too. Chop a quantity and either steam it or toss in a little olive oil. It's especially lovely served with a couple of poached eggs on top.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

garlic purée with parsley sauce

Persillade is the classic French flavouring of finely chopped garlic and parsley added to the pot moments before cooking is complete. A dish finished this way is often described or referred to  as persillé.

Persillade is also used as a stand alone garnish, liberally scattered over vegetables or meat or a handful thrown into a salad just before serving. However, the mixture dominates and other more subtle flavours get lost in the mix.

Italians add grated lemon or orange rind to the chopped parsley and garlic - and call it Gremolata (greh-moh-LAH-tah). The classic Italian dish Osso Bucco or slowed good lamb shanks are good examples of its use as a garnish where it works superbly in both cases.

So, back to French cooking and a variation on a famous theme. What could be more 'French' than puréed garlic floating in a parsley coulis especially if one has a supply of freshly sautéed frogs legs...ready for the dipping.

But, not many of us happen to have frogs legs standing by so perhaps tiny baby lamb cutlets 'Frenched' and cooked 'pink' would be just as delicious and just as complimentary. Whatever your choice this is an eye catching dish. Vibrant green coulis, almost pure white islands - so fresh and pleasing to the eye.

To make the garlic purée:

1 head of garlic per person, separated into cloves
half cup cream for every 4 heads of garlic
Salt and white pepper to season


Place the unskinned cloves in rapidly boiling, salted water for two minutes. Drain. Cool and skin - the skins should fall off easily OR peel the garlic first then continue with the method as follows:
Boil the garlic in six changes of fresh water for ten minutes each time or until it is soft enough to purée.

Slowly combine the purée with enough cream so you have a fairly stiff mixture that holds together well. Season with salt and white pepper and set aside in a warm place.

Parsley Coulis:

2 whole bunches of continental/Italian parsley
water to thin
dash of olive oil


Wash the parsley thoroughly. Remove all the stems. Boil all the parsley in slightly salted water for about 5 minutes. Drain and refresh in cold water. Purée the parsley in a blender to a coulis consistency by adding a tiny amount of oil and water to help 'lengthen' the sauce. Season and set aside.

To serve:  

Gently warm the parsley coulis and pour it into a serving dish. Float a quenelle of garlic purée on top and serve the meat of your choice on the side.

Frogs legs can be sautéed  for a few minutes on each side in hot oil and butter while baby lamb cutlets are lovely grilled or sautéed to your liking.

NOTE: I came across this unusual way of serving garlic and parsley on a tv show last year. The show was about a famous French chef of yesteryear, this was one of his signature dishes.  No recipe was given in the show so I came up with my own (above).

Researching the dish on the web at a later date I discovered a very recent recipe so perhaps it's not such an 'old' recipe after all. The recipe I found was similar to how I made it though I added oil to the coulis and I used cream with the garlic, not milk. The whole thing is very simple when you stop and think about it!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

kumatoes with goat's cheese and mint

My kingdom for a good tomato....

Wherever you live I'm sure you will agree that a really good, sweet testing tomato is hard to find. Nigh on impossible actually unless you live near a farmer's market or grow your own. How I long for the heirloom varieties seldom seen and there's nothing but nothing like a real true blue green tomato!

For me, the nearest thing to offer in lieu of the above is the Kumato, developed in Spain where it is known as the Olmeca. These tomatoes are green to reddish brown and are sweeter than our usual red varieties due to their high fructose content. They have a long shelf life and are considered gourmet tomatoes.

I've married them with fresh goat's cheese, torn mint leaves and a splash of extra virgin olive oil and a little vinegar. The result is a stunning, fresh, sweet tasting salad reminiscent of days when 
all tomatoes tasted good!
printer friendly recipe