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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Monday, July 28, 2008
Baked Eggs with Truffles

A promise is a promise, there were to be no more truffle recipes and really, when I wrote that, there weren't. However, last Sunday morning, brooding clouds were dropping rain showers, spawned from a freezing cold and icy finger of weather that had fallen upon us straight from Antarctica, so I lit a warming fire. It was also one of those rare & delicious occasions when everyone else was sleeping and I had the place all to myself.

My sleeping wife D had expressed a desire to have one last lot of truffled scrambled eggs, from the small piece of truffle that was held back. As I enjoyed a mug of coffee and the warmth of the fire, my thoughts turned towards cooking breakfast. It was then that a new idea emerged from the quiet recesses of my mind.

It's a simple dish that I've cooked before, an egg is placed in a ramekin with some cream and other flavourings, then baked until the white is set and the yolk still runny. There might be some cooked spinach, a little chopped ham, or even gently fried fresh porcini, there are many different choices which all make for a wickedly good breakfast. So adding finely chopped truffle was no revelation, more just a natural progression.

For a little more flavour, some good quality cheese was finely grated and placed on top, in this case it was gruyere, not the cheap square block that smells like vomit, but a fine piece cut from a wheel, other choices like cheddar for example, would be good too.

Some raw Continental bacon with its distinctive U-shape is gently fried and provides a smoky and salty counterpoint to the pot of utter deliciousness along with some good quality bread for dunking in and mopping up all traces of goodness.

I hope you all forgive me for breaking my promise -- I've now learned my lesson; to not make promises I might not keep. I blame the fire though.

Baked Eggs with Truffles

per ramekin or pot

1 tablespoon double cream, warmed
1 egg
1 teaspoon finely chopped or grated truffle
1 tablespoon finely grated gruyere or other cheese

In a small ramekin or other oven proof container, that will just contain the egg and cream, place the tablespoon of warm cream, then crack in an egg. Sprinkle over the truffle, then top with the gruyere or other cheese. Place in a hot oven, then immediately turn to low and bake for about 10 minutes* until the white is set and the yolk still runny. Two eggs per serve is about right.

*My eggs were cooked a little longer and consequently the yolk wasn't as runny as hoped and is why the cheese became well browned. I was only looking to colour the cheese slightly, perhaps a moderate oven for 10 minutes might be better.
  posted at 2:39 pm

Friday, July 25, 2008
Truffled Celeriac Puree

I have been mucking about with a few new recipes for truffles this year and this will be the last, promise.

You'd think that television presenting was a pretty safe job, but after watching Maeve O'Meara from Food Safari getting a little close to the crepes Suzette pan at the moment of flambe and being saved from losing her eyebrows and magnificent head of hair by the lottery of a fortunate wind direction and a well timed back lean, one might think twice.

The only balm available, if the unthinkable happened, was the crepes Suzette sauce mixture of butter, sugar, orange juice, Grand Marnier & cognac -- O'Meara might have looked poorly but would have tasted wonderful.

I'm sure in such a case, the Frenchman demonstrating, Laurent Branover, would have leapt to her immediate assistance!

It was on the same program that Philippe Mouchel cooked his truffled celeriac puree, which piqued my interest. There is no doubt that truffles are queens of the kitchen, producing right royal dishes, but they also have the wonderful ability to lift fairly mundane vegetables to new, undreamt of, heights.

What's good about this dish is that because of the amount of butter, which carries the flavour, a little truffle goes a long way, making this one of the more economical truffle dishes, if there is such a thing. Some may think of celeriac as a strong tasting vegetable, but the butter and truffle completely tames it and it's a breeze to make. The other great thing is, because it's so rich, a little goes a long way, stretching your precious truffle just that little bit further.

Truffled Celeriac Puree
(Philippe Mouchel -- serves 8)

1 kg celeriac, peeled and diced
enough milk* & water to cover
200g butter, cubed
sea salt & fresh ground pepper
truffle, grated on a microplane or very finely chopped

Put the celeriac in a pan with enough milk and water to cover and bring to the boil, then simmer until soft when tested. Drain the celeriac, put back in the pan and put back on low heat until it has dried out. Mash and blend in the butter a piece at a time until fully incorporated, then season to taste. Grate in some truffle and serve.

*Philippe believes the milk helps the celeriac to retain its pale colour.

If you would like to attend the Truffle Gala Dinner at the brasserie by Philippe Mouchel, you are welcome to join my table, there are four of us so far.
  posted at 9:12 am

Thursday, July 24, 2008
Morel & Truffle Sauce

I love Antonio Carluccio, he is exactly the sort of grandfather every child should have, warm, affable and a great story teller. You could just imagine the look of horror on their faces as he recounted the time he ate some casu marzu, that's Sardinian maggot cheese to you and me! Another reason I like him is that he is a master of the quiet hunt, a well known forager for mushrooms of all descriptions, who has been picking since he was seven.

Carluccio has also written a couple of invaluable books on mushrooming complete with recipes. Two of his favourite mushrooms are truffles and morels, members of the important ascomycetes group of funghi, which also includes yeasts as well as the mould Penicillium chrysogenum from which penicillin is derived.

Truffles and morels differ from other mushrooms in that instead of dropping their spore, they are contained in internal sacs called asci and are explosively discharged when ripe. In truffles, these asci are contained in ascoma, the little bumps that give truffles their characteristic warty appearance.

Possibly because they are members of the same family, truffles and morels are interchangeable in some recipes, sauce Perigueux from France being one example. What Carluccio has done is to extravagently combine both mushrooms into a dish which has an astonishing depth of flavour. Served with homemade pasta, it is simply incomparable.

Morel & Truffle Sauce
(adapted from The Complete Mushroom)

50g dried morels, soaked in hot water (about 20 minutes), soak water retained
25g butter
2 shallots, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
50ml brandy
500ml homemade chicken stock
150ml double cream
salt & fresh ground pepper
25g fresh Perigord truffle, thinly sliced

Drain the morels, trim the bases and roughly chop them. Melt the butter in a large pot and sweat the onion and garlic until soft, but not coloured, then add the chopped morels and sweat for 2 minutes more. Add the brandy and ignite, when the flames have died down add the morel soak water and bring to the boil and reduce until the soak water is almost gone, then add the chicken stock and cook at a slow boil until slightly reduced and the flavour concentrated. Take off the heat and add the cream, salt and pepper, then process in a blender until smooth. Pour back into the cleaned out pot and gently reheat. Take off the heat, add the truffle slices and leave to infuse for several minutes. Cook homemade pasta* until done, then mix it in a bowl with some sauce, divide into plates, spoon more sauce over along with a sprinkling of parmesan or pecorino.

*Carluccio recommends handerkerchief pasta, which are simple squares of about 7.5cm (3"), but any shape will work too. He also advises to thinly dice the truffle, but I like the look of thin slices.
  posted at 8:31 am

Monday, July 21, 2008
I loved it.

John Lethlean wrote an article regarding a brilliant idea for a quick and easy way to find a recipe from an ever expanding library of cookbooks. If you like to cook and you're anything like me, collecting cookbooks until they are falling off your shelves, you'd know that after a while, finding exactly where a certain type of recipe is, or even more annoyingly, Alzheimer's not withstanding, recalling which of those many hundreds of cookbooks contains the exact recipe you want, which, after reading about it so many years prior, your cerebral cortex is unable to provide the connection between that recipe and the book it's from. Believe me, it does happen.

His idea is roughly this. Buy a cookbook, then, be able to download from the publisher its index as a file to your computer. Et voila, a simple desktop keyword search will then reveal all the indexes of your cookbooks that contain the terms of your search, getting you into the kitchen that bit quicker, instead of tediously searching your books one by one.

Ironically, this idea might help Lethlean overcome his own feelings regarding the Roux brothers. He tells of picking up one of their cookbooks many years ago, which was clearly targeted at professional or aspiring professional cooks and reading their version of chicken stock and the horror he felt at the prescriptive process, part of which involved studding two entire onions with cloves, a bit like a couple of well rounded echidnas with clove quills if you will.

I'm guessing that book was The Roux Brothers New Classic Cuisine, but, if he had all their books in his library, along with all their indexes stored on his computer, Lethlean would have quickly found a user friendly version in their book French Country Cooking, that rivals in ease the Stephanie Alexander method he referenced. The cloves had all but disappeared, leaving a single solitary quill per onion.

A bit like taking stock to make stock.
  posted at 10:09 am

Thursday, July 17, 2008
A Truffle Dinner
The late French chef Jean Delaveyne is probably one of the most influential chefs of his generation, though not much is known about him outside his country. He has been described as being a great talent, but without all the hyperbole. Joel Rubuchon was mentored by Delaveyne and had this to say,

"... for me, Delaveyne was the first to help us move out from under the yoke of Escoffier -- he was in truth the beginning of nouvelle cuisine, teaching me that cuisine was more than manual, more than technique, that it was also reflection."

We are fortunate here in Australia to have two chefs that have been influenced by him, Alain Fabrègues of Western Australia's Loose Box restaurant, who was once his apprentice and Philippe Mouchel from Victoria's, the brasserie by Philippe Mouchel, who has worked with Delaveyne, a noted passionate mushroom lover.

So did the spore of this mushroom love infect his two proteges? The answer would have to be a resounding YES! Of course any true Frenchman worth his salt has some feeling for all things funghi, but it takes a special craftsman to bring out their absolute best; anyone can do mushrooms on toast, but how many cooks, or chefs for that matter can get you to the very essence of a porcini or chanterelle, or further, to the soul of a truffle?

I know Mouchel can, having had the experience and there is no doubt about Fabrègues either, he is running a masterclass on truffles at the Mundaring Truffle Festival, just before coming to Victoria to cook with Mouchel a very special, one off, truffle gala dinner on Tuesday, 26th August.

Want a peek? I know you do.

Philippe Mouchel

Creme parmesanne, oeuf de caille, truffes noires et consommé
Warm parmesan custard, quail egg, truffle and winter broth
Hanging Rock NV Brut Cuvee XII, Macedon, Victoria

Alain Fabrègues

Carpaccio de boeuf saumuré au sucre et sel aux truffes
Beef carpaccio served with juliennes of truffles, white champignons, sugar peas, apples, basil, parsley, horseradish and olive oil
2005 Moss Wood Pinot Noir

Philippe Mouchel

Coquilles saint –jacques poêlées en salade aux truffes noires beurre noisette
Pan-seared scallops with Manjimup black truffle and brown butter vinaigrette
2008 Moss Wood Semillon Sauvignon Blanc

Alain Fabrègues

Terrine de cèpes et chanterelles aux truffes
Terrine of porcini and chanterelles mushroom with Manjimup black truffle, served glazed
2007 Moss Wood Chardonnay

Philippe Mouchel

Medley d’agneau aux truffes noires , légumes de saison mijotés
Pan-roasted lamb medley with Manjimup black truffle and simered vegetables
2006 Moss Wood Ribbonvale Cabernet Merlot

Alain Fabrègues

Le nougat glacé aux noisettes, pistaches et truffes noires pralinés
Iced nougat with Hazelnuts, pistachios and Manjimup black truffle, served with a caramelised crème anglaise
2002 Chateau Pinsan Sauternes, Bordeaux, France

Coffee or selected teas and chocolate truffle

For more information, check out the brasserie by Philippe Mouchel's website. I'll be there just for the scallops.
  posted at 12:27 pm

The Apple & McDonalds
Our daughter M loves a McDonalds' Happy Meal as much as any young person and has her favourite combo from the choices she's provided with, one of her picks is even healthy. McDonalds upped that healthy ante yesterday, when we were served by someone new to the job - a common occurrence - who put a wrong item into the bag, another regular problem.

Instead of their world famous fries, M unhappily discovered she had been given a bag of apple slices, one of the foods on her personalised forbidden list. Now it's fair to say they wouldn't kill her, though in witnessing the carry on, you might be inclined to disagree. The truth is, M simply doesn't like apples*.

The bag of apple slices was lying forlornly on the table when I spied it last night and decided to share some with my wife. Opened the bag and we both popped a slice of creamy white, delicious looking apple into our mouths and in a fully synchronised moment, spat them out together.

It was apple that didn't taste of apple, it was like a chemical factory operating in our mouths.

All cooks know that if you want to hold cut apple for a few hours, it needs a little bath in lemon juice to stop the browning caused by oxidation. McDonalds, however, take a different tack. Needing their apple slices to last for a few days in the bag, they use chemicals to keep them a pearly white and another chemical to stop the slices sticking together. These are the culprits.

300 - Ascorbic acid (antioxidant)
302 - Calcium ascorbate (antioxidant)
170 - Calcium carbonate (colour, anti-caking agent)

I applaud McDonalds for at least trying to have healthy choices on their menu, but they need to rethink the apple slices option. They are risking turning a whole generation of children permanently off apples.

*There's also a warning that the packet of slices may contain apple pips, fair call. M might be right after all, eat enough pips and you will die. Each one carries a tiny trace of cyanide, but, one would have to eat an astonishing quantity to have such an effect; soberingly though, there is a recorded death from eating them.
  posted at 7:36 am

Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Truffle Sauce
My first ever experience with truffles was back in the 90's at the now defunct Paul Bocuse restaurant at the equally defunct Daimaru store; happily though, the chef at that time, Philippe Mouchel, survived and is still wowing diners at his semi eponymous restaurant, the brasserie by Philippe Mouchel.

Mouchel devised a degustation menu of Perigord truffles that was designed to show off the truffles' remarkable affinity with many different foods and included the celebrated signature dish of Paul Bocuse himself, truffle soup, that came to the table with a covering of puff pastry which was punctured by the diner, releasing the heady perfume of truffles. Pure theatre.

However, the dish I remember best was perhaps the simplest. A slit was cut into the side of a scallop and a piece of truffle inserted, the scallop was then quickly pan fried. There may have been more garnishes to the dish, but I simply don't recall them, everything else was obliterated by the rapture produced from this divinely artful combination.

This night was also the only time I've ever been paralysed by a choice from the menu. It was a degustation, but for the final savoury course there was a choice of truffled brandade of cod or eye fillet that was studded with truffles. There was just no way to choose, it was impossible, both sounded so heavenly that one angel would have cried tears for having been left out, so, forsaking all responsibility in the matter, I left it in Mouchel's hands to decide, who obviously felt the same dilemma, as a short time later, both courses arrived.

It was simply the best meal of my life and remains so to this day. I was invited in to the kitchen that night, but it was as if I'd witnessed the greatest magic act of all time and didn't want the spell to be broken by knowing how it had been pulled off, a decision I came to regret later, but at that moment, I was under the influence of the amazing and mysterious truffle.

Just so you, dear reader, never have to face up to having to choose between different, but equally as good dishes, here is a recipe for truffle and maderia sauce, which you can pour over everything.

Truffle and Maderia Sauce
(adapted from French Country Cooking)

50g butter
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
10g dried porcini, soaked
600ml chicken stock
100ml top quality maderia
30 to 100g fresh truffles, whatever you can afford
salt and fresh ground pepper

Melt half the butter in a saucepan, add the shallots and sweat for two minutes, then add the porcini, reserving their soaking water, and sweat for a minute more. Add the chicken stock and soaking water, bring to the boil, then simmer until reduced by about half, then pour in the maderia and simmer for five more minutes, pass through a sieve, pressing on the solids and keep hot. Either dice the truffle finely or slice into fine rings on a truffle slicer. Melt the rest of the butter in a pan, add the truffles and gently sweat for two or three minutes, then tip the truffles into the sauce and season to taste. Cover the pan and leave to infuse for several minutes off the heat. Serve.

Notes: Veal stock can be used instead of chicken. It is worth finding genuine (Portuguese), medium dry maderia, the one I used was labeled rainwater, but there are other different names for the levels of sweetness. Maderia has a special affinity with truffles, but you can use a dry white wine instead. If fresh truffles are out of your price range, dried morels will work too, perhaps 25 to 50g.
  posted at 7:35 am

Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Truffle & Nettle Soup

It's rather like the princess meets the pauper, no?

The Australian truffle season is in full swing, with top quality Manjimup truffles from Western Australia available from Simon Johnson. Naturally, I had to have some, even if they do create some financial tension in our household, along the lines of... "You paid HOW MUCH for them?!!!"

To soften the blow this year and more importantly to give me a chance to explain (read sneak them in), I asked that Simon Johnson contact me at work when the truffles arrived, but gave them my home phone number as well. I rang them early on the morning they were meant to be here and arranged to pick them up later in the day, so you can imagine my surprise, when, after walking through the front door with the treasures, my wife D casually and with just a slight hint of menace, enquired if they were the truffles she'd been rung about. Damn, busted!

However, truffles are not anything if not magical and D was soon swooning over a plate of irresistible, creamy, truffled, scrambled eggs. She then forgave me well enough too.

Truffles are a bit like the best bottle of wine in your cellar - you could drink it all by yourself, but then you can't really talk about it with anyone because it's impossible to explain how good it was, it demands to be shared with your closest friends. So it is with truffles. They are so rare and special that you must invite your closest friends to enjoy the experience with you.

The other thing with truffles is their ephemeral nature, which some just don't get; they are not like say a prime piece of wagyu that becomes the centre of a meal, truffles do their best work in partnership with other ingredients where they become haunting and elusive, bringing an unmistakable perfume to dishes.

This soup is a perfect example. Made from the simplest of ingredients, it had our close friends amazed at the flavour, even D, who is no fan of nettles, liked it and all thought it the teensiest bit better than the truffle sauce that accompanied the roast chicken and goose fat roast potatoes, which was my pick for the night.

Truffle & Nettle Soup
(serves 6)

150g nettle leaves*, rinsed and drained
30g butter
3 or 4 small white potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1.25l chicken stock, homemade
3 egg yolks
200ml double cream
salt and fresh ground pepper
30g truffle, very thinly sliced**

Melt the butter in a pot and sweat the nettle leaves until just wilted. Add the chicken stock, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes, then add the potatoes and cook until they are tender, about 10 minutes. Mix the egg yolks with the cream, then whisk in a little of the soup liquid, then pour this mixture back into the soup, off the heat, stir in well and do not boil or the soup will curdle. Season to taste then add the truffle slices. Put the lid on the pot and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Reheat carefully if necessary and serve.

*some friendly commenters have pointed out that nettles are available at some farmer's markets
**a truffle slicer is best for this job, producing paper thin slices of truffle
  posted at 7:44 am

Thursday, July 10, 2008
Nettle & Porcini Risotto

One consequence of the lifestyle that modern man lives, is that we have lost touch to a greater extent with wild foods that are all around, though possibly mushrooming is one exception. From time to time, one notices people foraging on paddocks or verges, clutching plastic bags that they place freshly plucked greens into. It might be dandelions, fennel or dill and if you see them wearing gloves, nettles might be finding their way into the bag.

Nettles are surprisingly common in many gardens, especially vegetable patches and it is not necessary to look very far for them, but very necessary to wear gloves, as they have stinging spines all over the leaves and stems. It is widely reported that nettles have many health benefits, but the main attraction for me is that they are free.

Their flavour is very mild and even though the leaves wilt down when cooked, they add a lovely texture to many dishes, especially soups. Another possibility is risotto, a dish that has had all manner of ingredients thrown in, but sometimes, simple things give the best results.

Nettle & Porcini Risotto
(serves 4)

50g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 cup risotto rice
100g nettles, leaves only, washed and rinsed
100ml white wine
10g dried porcini, soaked and chopped, soak water reserved
1.5l chicken stock, homemade preferably, simmering in a pot
100g grated pecorino Romano

Melt 25g butter in a pot, add the onion and garlic and sweat for a few minutes. When softened, add the rice and stir for two minutes to coat the rice with the butter. Add the nettles and white wine and cook until the wine is absorbed, then add the porcini along with the soaking water and a ladle of the simmering chicken stock. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, adding a ladle of the stock every time it is absorbed, until the rice is done to your liking, about 15-20 minutes. If you run out of stock, use simmering water instead. Stir in the remaining butter, pecorino Romano and season to taste.
  posted at 9:22 am

Tuesday, July 08, 2008
Blast From The Past

Some time ago, Febuary last year to be exact, I entered into an event, hosted by Alanna from A Veggie Venture, titled Soup, Glorious Soup. It was my intention to make botvinya, a Russian soup, that relies upon a soured base for its flavour. These sour soups are common to Eastern Europe and this particular version required kvas, a sour, fermented liquid made from rye bread.

I never did get around to making the soup, for after making the kvas, the flavour was so unlike anything that was familar to me, that I couldn't get my head around making a cold soup from it. So the kvas was consigned to the back of the fridge, where it waited, forlorn and forgotten, until the other day, almost 18 months after it was made.

My wife D, finally lost patience (did I ever mention D is VERY patient) and took some of the liquid to make zurek, another sour soup of Polish origin. I have to admit to being both horrified and fascinated in equal measure, frightened that something that had been left for so long might be the death of us, but intensely curious as to how it might turn out.

The soup was fantastic, even D was impressed with how good it was. The best part though, is that we are still alive and healthy. Turns out kvas keeps very well!
  posted at 2:04 pm


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