About Me
I'm a Melbourne boy, hailing from St Kilda with one ex, one current wife and four kids. Love the outdoors and making new discoveries. I cook a lot at home (cheers from wife) and do some preserving, mostly jams, pickles and fruit liqueurs. This is the diary of a cooking journey.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Sometimes being able to cook brings its own set of problems. Like when someone, your partner for instance, brings home an ingredient and asks you to make something of it.

Like a pack of dried broad beans and being asked to deal with it.

Fortunately, I'd just watched the Moroccan episode of Rick Stein's Mediterranean Escapes, where he enjoyed a bowl of soup called bessara, pretty much made from dried broad beans and not a lot else.

According to Rick, Bessara is a speciality of Chefchaouen, a city in Northwest Morocco and any place with chef in the name has got to have good food, right?

The soup looked thick, unctuous and inviting in complete contrast to the dried broad beans I'd been given, which still had the skin on, which, even after a bit of a soak were the devil to remove. Ahem, peeled next time.

Even though the main body of the soup consists of just broad beans and garlic, it's the condiments that really bring it to life, in particular, the squeeze of lemon juice right at the end. Where my adaption differs from Rick's is that I've cooked the chile and cumin into the soup, whereas he prefers to sprinkle it on at the end.

(serves 6)

500g dried shelled & split broad beans, soaked overnight
6 to 10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 teaspoon dried chile flakes - optional
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt & fresh ground pepper

To serve: Olive oil, paprika, lemon wedges, finely shredded coriander

Drain and rinse the broad beans and add them to a pot with 2 litres water and bring to the boil, skimming any scum that rises. Add the garlic cloves, dried chile flakes and cumin and allow to simmer away for an hour or so until the beans are starting to disintegrate. Blend the soup in batches until smooth and pass through a sieve back into the pot. Add water if the soup is too thick, but it does need to be nicely creamy. Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper, reheat gently.

Ladle the soup into bowls, drizzle on some olive oil, sprinkle on some paprika and shredded coriander, Serve with lemon wedges.
  posted at 4:53 pm

Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Stephen Downes Big Call
Early 2009, Anthony Bourdain visits Melbourne and declares that Dan Hunter's food at the Royal Mail Hotel is worthy of Michelin stars, even going so far as to say it's the best food in Australia.

Fast forward to November 2010 and the Herald Sun's food critic, Stephen Downes, writes that the Asian influenced Easy Tiger would win 3 Michelin stars based solely on their dessert of chocolate and pandanus leaf dumplings.

I like a big call and that's one of the biggest I've ever seen.

Wonder what some of Melbourne's better chefs would think about that? Shannon Bennett or Ben Shewry for instance. What would the doyen of Thai cuisine in Australia and real life Michelin starred David Thompson make of it?

Does a single amazing dish garner a restaurant one of the highest awards going around?
  posted at 8:36 pm

Sunday, November 07, 2010
Egg Parmigiana

I recently spent some time in the country and ate at a local hotel, The Royal Mail in Birregurra, on a couple of occasions. The first time, on a Saturday night was an altogether elaborate menu, featuring some mighty fine dishes.

Our second visit couldn't have been more in contrast. It was the Saturday's chef night off and the menu was more typical country fare, mixed grill with all the cliches sort of thing, though still very well cooked.

One item that caught my eye was the chicken parmigiana, ubiquitous throughout the land, very often featured as a pot and parma kind of special for slack Monday nights.

Now as much as I like a good parma, why is it that someone hasn't dallied around with the concept? You know, have a bit of fun with it. A play on the old chicken and egg, who came first theme.

The more I thought about it, the more possible it seemed to have a genuine egg parmigiana. The ham and cheese were easy as was the tomato sauce. But what makes a parma just that?

The coating of breadcrumbs of course.

Why not fry up the breadcrumbs in some butter and sprinkle them on top to give that vital crunch and texture?

Egg Parmigiana

For each serving
1 or 2 slices of best quality smoked ham - see note
2 or 3 slices buffalo mozzarella
1 poached egg
2 tablespoons tomato & basil sauce - recipe follows
2 teaspoons breadcrumbs, fried in butter till nicely browned - see tip

Let the ham and buffalo mozzarella come to room temperature. Lay 1 or 2 slices of ham attractively on a plate and top with slices of buffalo mozzarella. Lay a freshly poached egg on top and drizzle over the tomato and basil sauce. Sprinkle with the fried breadcrumbs and serve immediately.

Tomato & Basil Sauce

1 tin Italian plum tomatoes
1 or 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
a few leaves of fresh basil, shredded
salt & fresh ground pepper

Take a tin of whole tomatoes and crush them with your hands. Put them in a pot and bring to a simmer. Add the garlic, shredded basil leaves and season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Simmer until just thickened.

Note: I was talking about this dish with Steve Kirk from Kirkfood who supplies me with the freshest Italian buffalo mozzarella when I can't make it to La Latteria for the best local stuff. He suggested using Italian prosciutto as a variation, or if you wanted to splurge, some Iberico jamon wouldn't go astray either.

tip - when you've fried the breadcrumbs, don't leave them in the frypan as they will continue to cook and darken.
  posted at 10:08 pm

Saturday, November 06, 2010
Broad Beans with Radish & Watercress

There's nothing like a great steak, cooked just so, with a serving of crisply cooked chips. But after a visit to a Farmer's market by my wife, we were in possession of a cornucopia of spring vegetables and herbs, peaking in their prime.

Amongst other things, a look in the basket revealed a couple of bunches of broad beans, a cute bunch of pink French radishes, a bunch of watercress and some spring onions. All that pepperiness of the watercress and radishes allied with the subtle sweetness of broad beans would be a perfect foil to a steak and make a beautifully complete meal in itself. Even without chips!

A dish that's a simple paean to the season of spring.

Broad Beans with Radish & Watercress
(serves 2)

750g broad beans, shelled
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 or 5 French radishes, finely sliced
1 bunch watercress, leaves picked from main stem
few drops white balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
1 tablespoon hazelnut or olive oil
salt & fresh ground pepper

Blanch the broad beans in simmering water for 1 minute. When cool enough to handle, remove the skin. Heat the olive oil in a pot and gently sweat the spring onion until just soft, about 1 minute. Add the shelled broad beans and sliced radishes and gently warm through. Add the watercress, a few drops of white balsamic vinegar and the hazelnut oil. Season with salt and fresh ground pepper. Place in the centre of the plates and top with a steak or grilled chicken breast.
  posted at 9:09 pm


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