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Kung Pao Chicken

Kung Pao Chicken

A few weeks ago, my sister and I attended the 40th anniversary of our parish priests Father Joe and Father John. Both had been priests for 40 years and the community wanted celebrate this significant event with a special dinner. That night we watched a slide show that had been prepared of both priests throughout the years. It was actually quite touching to see how much a part of our lives they both were, especially on momentous occasions like baptisms, first communions, weddings etc. After the slide show, a number of people were asked to speak in honour of each of the priests. One of them was an elderly gentleman. This gentleman had actually been in the hospital for a few weeks but was given special permission to leave the hospital for three hours that day and he chose to spend it at this dinner.

The gentleman walked slowly to the podium and started talking about each of them. He talked about how Father John had come here many years ago from Vietnam, was fluent in French and had been offered a number of times to be promoted and move to head other parishes but he stayed put because he loved being part of this community. Father Joe on the other hand was an avid collector of anything and everything and had a weakness for auctions. He also loved gardening and was instrumental in ensuring that priests, when retired, were taken cared of.

It made me realize that there was very little I knew of both of them.

At the end of his speech, this gentleman asked us to reflect on the fact that whilst both priests had devoted their lives to serving the church and the community, no one was really there to take care of them. Might we, he asked, consider inviting them for tea one day?

I immediately put a note on my calendar to invite them over for dinner one day.

The thing is, prior to that speech, I had been seeing Father Joe every morning at the park where I walked my dog. Our interactions had always been limited to me waving to him and saying “Good morning Father!” and him giving me a friendly nod as he walked past me.

One day, I passed Father Joe as he was stretching before his walk, and, as I had done for a number of years, said “Hi Father Joe!” He gave me a friendly wave and I went on my way. A few steps later I decided to turn back. Why not invite Father Joe for dinner this weekend? I said to myself.

So I turned around and ran back to him. “Father, would you like to have dinner at my house?” I asked.

He looked at me, and his eyes widened in surprise. “Me?” he asked.

“Yes Father!” I said. “Maybe this weekend?”

“Me?” he repeated.

“Yes yes!” I insisted. He looked really confused.

And then I looked at him closely… and then I got confused.

“Are you… Father Joe?” I asked.

He looked amused and shook his head. “No, I’m not.”

“Oh my God! I’m so sorry…That’s what happens when you don’t pay attention at mass!” I told him and quickly said good bye.

When I do finally get to invite Father Joe, Kung Pao chicken is the dish I am going to make.

The recipe is from Rasa Malaysia’s Cookbook “Easy Chinese Recipes”.  It has quickly become one of our favourite dishes to make.   I’m normally not a fan of chicken breast meat as I find it too dry.  Bee however shares her secret for super tender chicken breast – that is, marinating the chicken in baking soda for a few minutes  then washing it off .  Beware!  This dish is highly addictive – think remarkably tender chicken pieces coated in a spicy, tingly, sweet and sour sauce.   I’m sure that when the REAL Father Joe tastes it, the only comment he’ll have is “Oh… My… God!”  :)

Rasa Malaysia’s Kung Pao Chicken

For the Kung Pao Chicken

  • 250 grams skinless chicken breast, cut into cubes
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon chinese rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon cornstarch or potato flour
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorn oil
  • 1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
  • 2.5 cm piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced (we used a mandolin)
  • 10 to 15 dried red chillies
  • 3 heaping tablespoons peanuts or cashew nuts
  • 1 green onion, trimmed and cut into small rounds

For the sauce

  • 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dark soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chinese black vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon chinese rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 dashes of white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch or potato flour

For the peppercorn oil

  • 1/4 cup sichuan peppercorns
  • 125 ml oil
  1. Make the sichuan peppercorn oil by heating the oil until very hot and the oil becomes shiny. Turn off the heat and add the sichuan peppercorns, mixing with chopsticks to release their aroma. Allow to cool and let the peppercorns infuse their flavour into the oil for around 2 hours. This step can be done ahead of time.
  2. To roast the peanuts or cashew, pre-heat the oven to 160c and place the nuts into an over proof bowl. Roast the nuts for around 25 minutes until golden brown. Set aside. This step can also be made ahead of time.
  3. Tenderize the chicken breasts by placing the chicken in a container and mixing the baking soda into the meat, making sure the chicken is evenly coated. Leave to marinate for 15 minutes. Once done, rinse the chicken very well in cold running water. Drain the chicken breasts and pat dry.
  4. Marinate the chicken in the rice wine and cornstarch (or potato flour) for 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, mix all the ingredients of the sauce together.
  6. Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over high heat and stir fry the chicken until opaque and half cooked. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  7. Add the peppercorn oil and stir fry the ginger and the garlic for a few seconds then add the dried red chillies for around 30 seconds or until their aroma is released. Add back the chicken and give it a good stir.
  8. Add the sauce which will thicken and coat the chicken nicely. Finally, add the peanuts and the green onions. Serve immediately with a bowl of steamed rice.

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Sugar cured salmon, spiced avocado, crisp tortilla

Sugar cured salmon, spiced avocado, crisp tortilla

There are New Year’s resolutions I make that I never keep, despite good intentions.  The other day I realized it was already mid January and I still hadn’t gotten around to exercising, or reading my “book of the month”.  Sometimes I think to myself, would it work if I made some Reverse New Year’s Resolutions instead?  I’d love to be able to resolve to (1) Eat as much junk food as I want, (2) Buy as many cookbooks as I can, and (3) Never exercise.

The resolutions I like to make however, are those relating to food.  Those ones I gladly keep.  This year I decided that one of them was to learn how to cure fish.  Curing to me has always been one of those things that only seriously weird and crazy food fanatics make.  It’s right up there with the sausage making and making.  Considering that I have already gone to a sausage making class AND I’ve learned how to make cheese, it was really only about time that I decided to bite the bullet and cure my own salmon.

The recipe I chose was from Dietmar Sawyere’s Table By The River.  Sawyere is executive chef and director of  two-hat restaurant Berowra Waters Inn located on the Hawkesbury river.  If you’re like me and have never had the pleasure of dining in this restaurant – some caution – reading this book will make you want to hop on the next sea plane to get there (my booking is  in mid- Feb!).

There is nothing difficult about curing – the one thing you need though, is patience.  However, if you are new to curing, this recipe is probably the best place to start.  For one, given the size of the fillet used, the curing only takes four hours, much shorter than many recipes I’ve seen that can take up to two days. The curing recipe is only made up of coriander, sea salt, sugar, dill and citrus zest.  The cured salmon is also accompanied with a crisp tortilla (next time, I’ll try using a fried wanton wrapper as well) with some spiced avocado, and topped with salmon roe.  Each bite has the gorgeous sweet-citrusy salmon, the crunch of the tortilla, tang of the avocado and the “pop” of the briny salmon roe.  To me, an epitome of a perfect bite.

Sugar-cured Salmon

Sugar-cured Salmon

Sugar-cured Salmon, Spiced Avocado, Crisp Tortilla

Recipe from Dietmar Sawyere, Table By The River
Sugar-cured Salmon

  • 8 coriander seeds
  • 30 grams (1 oz) salt
  • 30 grams (1 oz) sugar
  • 20 grams (2/3 oz) dill sprigs, roughly chopped
  • 1 lime, zested, juice reserved
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 30 ml (1 fl oz) lemon-infused extra virgin olive oil
  • 400 grams (14 oz) centre-cut salmon fillet, skin-on, pin boned (I used salmon with the skin off)

Spiced Avocado

  • 1 ripe Hass avocado
  • 2 tsp shallot, finely chopped
  • 1/2 tsp red chilli, finely diced
  • 20 ml (2/3 fl oz) chicken stock, chilled (I used double cream)
  • Juice of 1 lime (above)
  • sea salt

To complete

  • 2 large soft flour tortillas
  • grapeseed oil for frying
  • sea salt
  • 30 grams salmon roe
  • micro coriander leaves

For the Sugar-cured Salmon

  1. Place the coriander seeds, sea salt and sugar in a mortar and lightly crush with a pestle. Add the dill, lime and lemon zests and spread evenly over the flesh side of the salmon. (Since my fillet was skinned, I rubbed the mix on both sides)
  2. Warp the salmon in clingfilm or aluminium foil and place on a plate with a light weight on top. Leave the weighted salmon in the fridge for 4 hours, then wash the fish under cold running water and dry well with a clean cloth.
  3. Using a sharp knife, remove the salmon fillet from the skin. Rub the salmon with a little lemon infused extra virgin olive oil and keep tightly wrapped in the fridge until needed.

For the Spiced Avocado

  1. Cut the avocado in half, discard the stone and scoop out the flesh. Place the avocado flesh in a blender along with the shallots, chilli, and chicken stock (or cream, if using). Blend of a puree and correct the seasoning with the lime juice and some sea salt.

To Complete

  1. Cut the tortillas into rectangles and crisp-fry in some grapeseed oil. Remove and season lightly with sea salt. Spoon some avocado puree on top of the warm tortilla and then place a slice of the sugar-cured salmon on the avocado. Garnish with salmon roe and some micro coriander leaves.
Sugar-cured Salmon

Sugar-cured Salmon

Thank you to New Holland for the Review Copy.

Table By The River, Dietmar Sawyere RRP $49.95

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Bechamel and Prawn Stuffed Mussels

Bechamel and Prawn Stuffed Mussels

Is it any surprise that my most favourite presents to give (and receive) during Christmas are cookbooks?  I consider myself a pretty good judge cookbook character.  For example, my brother who is a bachelor loves the four ingredients or less series and his idea of cooking is to buy a chicken, buy a packet of spices and chuck everything in the oven. For one of my sisters, I am always on the look out for cookbooks that have recipes that can be completed in thirty minutes or less.  She is so keen on saving time (in fairness to her, she does have a four month old baby), that we call her “Miss Shortcut”.

My Mom is getting a book I bought a few weeks back, Miguel Maestre’s first cookbook, Miguel’s Tapas.

Born in Murcia Spain, Miguel has worked in many celebrated restaurants including Bather’s Pavillion and Bilson’s in Sydney and even Ferran Adria’s El Bulli in Roses, Spain. He has also been on a number of TV shows including the popular Boy’s Weekend.  Today Miguel owns two restaurants in Sydney, El Toro Loco and Argyle Bazar.

The cookbook is divided into seven sections based on the times of day the tapas are meant to be eaten. Breakfast, morning tea, lunch, dessert, afternoon tea, dinner, and evening snacks. Hmmm… the Spanish seem to love their tapas anytime of the day!  There is also a section at the very end covering basics and sauces which includes among other things, a variety of stocks, flavoured oils and vinaigrettes.

Miguel has managed to strike a balance between the classic tapas such as the tortilla (potato omelette), paella and churros (his chocolate sauce is made with condensed milk!) and some tapas he gives a contemporary twist.  For instance, Wild Rice Popcorn and a Deconstructed Spanish Omelette inspired by his time at El Bulli.

I’ll be honest, the reason I’m giving my Mom this book isn’t so much that I want her to enjoy it (well, that’s part of it), but mainly because I want her to cook many of the dishes from it while she’s here for a visit.  Top of the list would be the Flamenca Eggs, Manchego Bread Rolls (inspired by the very popular Brazilian cheese bread), Salted Cod Croquettes, and Wagyu and Chorizo Meat Pie.  For dessert, I’m thinking she could make Bombe Alaska Fruit Skewers, Santiago’s Tart and Bread and Butter Pudding…

Like his TV shows, Miguel has a light hearted approach to cooking tapas.  As he shares his recipes, he also shares stories behind the recipes, in particular about his childhood growing up with a large family from where he got his love for cooking from.

So yes, this book’s going to my Mom for Christmas… unless of course… I decide to keep the book for myself…

(more…)

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Strawberry and Macaron Trifle

Strawberry and Macaron Trifle

If you regularly read my blog (and if you don’t: why not?!?!), you might know that this year I started teaching macaron making at The Essential Ingredient.  It’s been a fantastic and rewarding experience (especially when I get sent pictures of finished macarons from former students) and I look forward to more classes next  year.  One question I get asked frequently is “What macaron book do you recommend?”  I’ve probably bought all the books on macarons ever published.  I have even bought two macaron books written in French (Christophe Felder and Pierre Herme) to learn as much as I can (on a few occassions I have even translated a few recipes).  With the craze of macarons in the year or so, a number of books in English have also been published.  None of them I have been completely happy with.

That is of course until last week, when, by some happy accident (meaning I went to the bookstore without intending to buy anything) I found Jose Marechal’s Secrets of Macarons.

(more…)

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Braised Beef Cheeks with Pedro Ximenez Sherry and Cauliflower Puree

Braised Beef Cheeks with Pedro Ximenez Sherry and Cauliflower Puree

Patience has never been my strong point.  When I want things done, I want it straight away and a few years ago I realized my husband just doesn’t work on the same time zone as I do.

Every Monday night I used to ask “Can you take the trash out?”

“Yes.”  He would reply.

Five minutes later he still hadn’t done so.  “I thought you were going to take the trash out?” I would remind him.

Finally, one day, fed up with my nagging he said “When I say I’ll take out the trash, I’ll take it out when I want to, if you can’t wait, then take the trash out yourself.”

Hmph!  Since then, I haven’t bugged him about the trash (well, or any other house chores really) because given a choice between doing it myself or having him do it “on his own time”, I’d rather wait.

On my recent Melbourne trip I was pleased to discover that Movida was a few steps away from my hotel.  I managed to sneak in a lunch and had (among other things) the slowly braised beef cheek (Carrillera De Buey).  What can I say?  Here was a well-marbled piece of meat, covered in a sticky, glossy Pedro Ximenez Sherry sauce and served with the creamiest cauliflower puree.

When I got back to Sydney I raved about the dish to my husband and I promised to make it for him after I found the recipe in the Movida Rustica cookbook.

For a number of days he’d ask “When am I going to try the Movida beef cheeks?”

“Soon.”  I said.

The other day he said “Are you ever going to make the beef cheeks?  I’m beginning to doubt that I’ll ever get to taste them!”

Here was my chance.

“When I say that I’m going to make the beef cheeks, I’ll make it when I want to.  If you can’t wait, then make the beef cheeks yourself!”

Hmph!

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Movida's Turron

Late last year I found myself alone in Melbourne’s most famous Spanish restaurant, Movida.  I was sitting at the bar with eight (yes, EIGHT) dishes in front of me.   I was in Melbourne for three days doing a baking course and had asked my classmates for dinner recommendations.  The overwhelming response was to try Movida and despite warnings from everyone that it would be almost impossible to get a table, I managed to walk in and get a seat at the bar.  Luck was on my side!  So there I was, all alone with eight different tapas and because everything was riquisimo, I was secretly glad there was no one to share it with me!

The highlight of my meal was Movida’s hot chocolate ganache pudding with vanilla bean ice-cream and nougat.  There isn’t anything new with a warm chocolate pudding with ice cream is there?  I mean, that’s always going to be a winner – but when you add Frank Camora’s nougat or turron – the combination of a warm chocolatey pudding, cold and creamy vanilla ice cream and then THAT nougat… the lady beside me must have suffered from some serious dessert envy because even if she had eaten half her dessert, she pointed to my plate and asked the waiter “give me exactly what she’s having!”.

(more…)

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