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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Friday, July 21, 2006
Weekend Herb Blogging # 42
Eeek, I've just realized that my last two posts were not food related at all. I don't mind one to break things up a little, but two's pushing it, so I'd better get back on topic right now.

A few years ago, I used to knock around with P who was the Executive Chef at the World Congress Centre, which was Melbourne's biggest convention centre. Wanting to try the cooking life, P organized a part-time job for me there. The whole kitchen was divided into sections and each section would handle only one task, I was assigned to the Baking section. It was here that I met D, a very fit French pastry chef who ran to work every day. He was one of those peripatetic kind of folk that could never really settle down and used to regale us with stories of his treks through Central America battling huge anacondas and giant leeches and I believe he also wrote a chapter for the Lonely Planet guide book.

It was fantastic for me to be working amongst food professionals, though like all industries there were those chefs that were absolutely dedicated to their jobs and those for whom cooking was the only job they knew and were trapped by it. D was probably the latter and he coped with it by making frequent changes to his employment, kind of like doing stages. Once he tired of a kitchen he was off.

D loved having me in his section, not for baking skills which compared to those wearing the white toque were non-existent, rather he liked the habit I had of trying out my cooking projects on him. When I made a fish soup in the French style (soupe de poisson), D sat there in a kind of revery, like he was communicating with God and when he finished simply told me it was very good. Another thing he liked and asked for was my Hazelnut Gateau. It is a very easy cake made with butter and sour cream topped with skinned, roasted hazelnuts. D was so taken with this cake that he wanted to put it on the Bakery menu and ordered a large bag of hazelnut meal. When I saw the bag I guessed that he wanted to make this cake, so I asked him why he had bought the hazelnut meal. D told me that it was so we could make the cake and turned white when I told him there was no hazelnut meal in it at all!

From time to time I would invite my mate P and his wife the lovely N, over to my apartment. Plenty of people would be overwhelmed inviting not just a chef but an executive chef for dinner, but I never cared about it. I love to cook and wanted the feedback. P loved the fact that I could cook and wasn't overawed by his reputation, for sadly people find it difficult to invite chefs for dinner, scared that the food won't be up to standard, but the reality is chefs don't mind at all (within reason) what is served up to them. One dish that I remember serving up was Cassoulet de Castelnaudary. There are a few variations of this dish, some with different meats, some with tomatoes and some without, each village likes to claim theirs as the only rightful version.

I don't think that P had had this dish in some time, because I could have sworn that I saw a tear in the corner of his eye as he ate it, maybe it was the homemade confit, I don't know. But I really slayed him with another dish, for P is a cheese lover who taught me to appreciate good cheese. Through the Congress Centre he had unrivalled access to the very best cheeses from around the world and so I decided to serve a cheesecake to him with a twist - it would be made from fresh goat's cheese. It has a lovely light texture that is best appreciated the day it is made, for it sinks down on keeping. The taste is only mildly goaty and it's a wonderful finale for a meal. And a great entry for WBH, which is kindly being hosted by Chef Paz.

Goat's Cheesecake
adapted from the Roux brothers

Shortcrust Pastry

250 g (9 oz) flour
1 egg
5 g (3/4 teaspoon salt)
10 g (1.5 teaspoons) sugar
150 g (5 oz) butter, diced and slightly softened
1 tablespoon milk

Place the flour, sugar and salt on a work counter, make a well in the centre and put in the egg and butter. Gradually rub in the flour and when everything is almost mixed, add the milk and knead the dough two or three times to combine everything. Try not to work it too much or the dough will shrink back later. Leave to rest in the fridge for an hour.


300 g (11 oz) fresh soft goat's cheese
75 ml (3 fl oz) milk
200 g (7 oz) sugar, plus a pinch
6 eggs
1 vanilla pod, split
85 g (3 oz) flour

Firstly, generously butter a 24 cm (10") cake tin, then roll out the pastry to a thickness of 2-3 mm (1/8") and line the tin, trim excess pastry and then pinch up a frill all around. Preheat the oven to 180 c (350 f).

In a bowl, mix together the soft cheese, milk and sugar until very soft and smooth. Separate the eggs, being very careful not to get any yolk in the egg white and beat the yolks one by one into the mixture. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod and beat them in. Finally mix in the flour. Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks, add the pinch of sugar and whisk until firm. Using a balloon whisk fold in one third of the eggwhites into the mixture, then with a spatula fold in the rest. Do not overmix, better a little eggwhite not completely mixed in. Pour this mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake in the oven for about 45 minutes until the top looks almost burnt.

Cool and serve with a fresh fruit compote, pears would be a good choice.

BTW, my link for WHB is the vanilla pod in case you were wondering, only I've run out of time to talk about it. Suffice to say it is the seed pod of an orchid that grows in tropical climes and is one of the most important flavourings in baking. It is available as a pod (expensive), extract (mildly expensive) and essence (cheap). I've used all three, but tend to mostly use the extract, which if you read carefully is not only extract of vanilla, it's also padded out a little bit, however the flavour is still superior to the essence. Sorry Kalyn, I got carried away with the storytelling, next time I will be more focused, promise.
  posted at 7:26 am

At 1:07 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I for one am really glad your focus was on story! I think I've read up on vanilla several times and have a great respect for it as a flavoring. Your story is terrific as well as the cheese cake. Thanks much.

At 2:02 pm, Blogger Kalyn Denny said...

I haven't ever seen a vanilla pod, except in photos, but I hear it is exquisite. BTW, very few of my friends will invite me to dinner either, and it's quite sad.

At 3:24 pm, Blogger neil said...

Hi tanna, thank-you so much for that. I hope you like goat's cheese and cheesecake, because this one's pretty nice.

Hi kalyn, yes it is sad, especially when all your friends are dying to come over to your place for dinner.

At 10:14 pm, Blogger Unknown said...

Yummo...sounds absolutely heavenly. What type/brand of goats cheese do you recommend?

At 7:51 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi mellie, if you like goat's cheese it is really tasty. Funny you should ask about where to get the cheese. Yesterday we were at Red Hill Cheesery getting our regular goat cheese fix and I enquired about fresh goat curd. They told me that they had 1 kg blocks they sold to restaurants for $70. Why can't goats give it up like cows!!!

Really any brand would do, so long as it's fresh. I look for the cheapest one and ask for a taste, if it's mild and sweet that's all you need.

At 5:18 am, Blogger kitchenmage said...

Heh, great minds blog alike. I did vanilla beans this week as well, but I wrote about them without a recipe. I did, however, include the inexpensive source for the 3/4 of a pound of beans on my shelf. Every time I open the pantry, I want to swoon from the aroma.

At 9:14 am, Blogger neil said...

Hi kitchenmage, we should link our posts :-) I love eBay, I've just about completed my set of The Good Cook through them and one other thing that you can get through them are morel mushrooms.


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