Friday, May 26, 2017

Shaun Presland at Millfield Hall

This week has an inadvertent Japanese theme that I am really excited to share. My experience cooking Japanese food to date includes a grand total of two dishes: miso soup and sushi rolls. So I was really excited to learn that Shaun Presland, Executive Chef at Sake Restaurant in The Rocks, would be presenting a cooking class at Millfield Hall; an adorable old-school community hall turned weekender / cooking school near Cessnock in the Hunter Valley.

Sweet Millfield Hall || The next door neighbour heads over for a hello.

Who else can boast a stage within their open plan lounge / dining / kitchen?
Seans daughter gets in some cuddles before the class gets into full swing
Kate Grant and husband Ewen Craig bought Millfield Hall over ten years ago as a means to escape crazy Sydney on weekends. Earlier this year they decided to combine their love of food, wine and entertaining by hosting monthly cooking classes, the most recent featuring Sydney chef Shaun Presland.

Shaun Preslands immersion in Japanese culture began fresh out of University at a 350-year-old traditional wooden inn located in rural Japan. Since then he has trained under some of the best Japanese food chefs before managing the kitchen at Sushi-e in Sydney and then being invited by world-renowned Nobu Matsuhisa to work at  Nobu Atlantis in the Bahamas. Back in Sydney hes maintained his loyal following at Sake Restaurant.

While the children played Wii in the lounge room, six fellow food-lovers assembled around the kitchen island to listen intently to the affable and knowledgeable head chef, Sean, speak of all things Japanese.
By way of an easy introduction we began working on prawn dumplings. The really interesting thing about this recipe was using a garlic mayonnaise to bind the minced green prawns. After being formed into little bite-sized balls they are tossed in finely sliced gyoza wrappers before being steamed. I fell for the simplicity of this dish so much that I cooked up a batch the following day for Dean to try, except that I reserved half the dumplings to deep-fry. The kids loved eating ‘crunchy spiders’ as they called them.

Seasoning the prawn mixture || Gyoza wrappers

Finely slicing the gyoza || The freshly prepared  prawn dumplings ready for steaming
Sean was so wonderful at improvising with each recipe. In the case of the prawn dumplings he decided to spread some of the prawn mixture  between slices of eggplant that we later coated in potato flour and deep-fried. A modern and delicious take on prawn toast.

A new take on prawn toast  prawn dumpling mix wedged between slices of eggplant and deepfried
Next up was Tuna Tataki with Sesame Soy Dressing. By way of more improvisation, Sean showed how you could sear the outside of the tuna using a stove-top flame. It was also a revelation to taste the tuna after a heavy–handed coating in ground salt and pepper before being seared. After searing Sean submerged the pieces of tuna in a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process, which also rinsed off much of the coating which on tasting left a roasted salt and mild smoky pepper tang. What really made this dish though was the dressing. Everyone went weak at the knees over it.

Shaun gets liberal with the tuna seasoning || Improvising with the searing

The tuna cools off || Shaun sharing some expert sashimi tips

The finished tuna tataki w sesame soy dressing
I also learnt that I would never make it as a sashimi chef being left-handed. All sashimi knives are sharpened on one side only and, like scissors, it’s the side preferred by right-handers. Getting custom-made left-handed sashimi knives is very, very expensive.

I think we could have happily ended the cooking demo there, but there was more to come. Including several dressings (miso dressing two ways and a chilli soy dressing) for our dumplings and eggplant. Another impromptu course was added by dicing some of the salmon to make up little sushi ‘tacos’. Simply topped with diced tomato and seaweed, and encased in deep-fried gyoza.

We get some knife lessons in thinly shaving daikon (katsuramuki). A little scary w Shauns super sharp knives.

Everyones favourite job  pin boning! || Searing salmon on the bbq
The main was Ocean Trout with Sweet Pea Puree. While sounding decidedly un-Japanese, the flavours of Japan imparted its influence in the accompaniments that included oriental mushrooms cooked in soy & kombu butter and the all-important rice.

Sean was resolute about preparing rice for cooking. He implored us all to rinse our rice at least a half a dozen times before cooking. The routine is simply a matter of adding the rice to the cooker container, adding the same volume in  tap water, stirring 30 times in one direction then tipping out the water. Repeat this step at least six times or until the water runs clear. At Sake they cook the rice with a block of charcoal to filter any more impurities. His final tip was to cook rice one part rice to one part water, then remove 5% of the water and replace with a splash of sake to ‘freshen up the rice’.

Kate happily obliges when there is a call for sake to be added to the rice. Weve a nice selection to choose from w lunch.

Shaun whips up a couple of miso dressings  a chilli and a lime.

After a cooking demo that turned out to be entirely fascinating and hands-on, we all enjoyed the spoils of our toil with a sit-down lunch on the verandah over looking the countryside. Our fellow classmates Nicki and Peter had very generously brought with them a sublime collection of wines to enjoy with each course and Kate made sure we had enough sake on hand to keep the “Kanpai!” coming.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Choosing Food Processors For Your Daily Use

Most people would love to have large, spacious kitchens with plenty of counter space and places for storage. The truth, however, is that many kitchens simply weren't designed to meet the needs of today's home cook. Residential kitchens are often relatively small in comparison to the typical "dream kitchen". One of the biggest complaints is that they often lack storage space, and there is little counter space for working. With all the small appliances currently on the market, it seems like there is never enough room for them all.

For most people, it is necessary to carefully choose small appliances that will fit in the kitchen and can be stored easily. For this reason, it is often beneficial to choose appliances that can serve multiple purposes. One of the most popular multipurpose small kitchen appliances is the food processor. Food processors can be used to perform several tasks. Even the most basic models can typically slice, chop, and mix foods with ease. Some of the more advanced models can also perform tasks such as kneading heavy dough or slicing specialized foods such as french fries.

The machines are typically rather compact in size, which makes them very easy to store, and they take up very little space on the counter. Many even come with retractable cords to make storage even easier. Today's food processors are also easy to disassemble and clean. They can be found with bowls with varying capacities. This makes them ideal for preparing any volume of food. For the basic home user, a 9 cup food processor is an excellent choice because it is generally not too big or too small.

While it is possible to find separate appliances for nearly any kitchen task imaginable, a multipurpose appliance is typically the most beneficial for the majority of home chefs. Not only are they easier to use, they also make the most efficient use of the limited counter and storage space in the kitchen. When compared to the cost of buying each appliance individually, multipurpose appliances such as food processors also tend to be much more economical and affordable as well.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Hunters Gatherers Cooking from the Heart

A funny thing happened a couple of weeks ago. I received a message from a Twitter friend who had won a competition through our local ABC radio station to take 10 friends to the Hunter Valley for a day of feasting… and I was one of the 10 names she put forward. Hells bells! Before I knew it I was on a road trip to culinary heaven with some people Id never met before (in real life).

After preliminary how-do-you-dos at the ABC Newcastle office and some face-to-face conversations that involved responses over 140 characters in a coach from Newcastle to Pokolbin, our group of Twitter friends disembarked at the perfectly positioned Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, high atop a ridge overlooking row after row of grape vines and the beautiful Hunter Valley.
Cue the first utterances of ‘Oh, my God’ for the day. I’ve been to a number of vineyards in the Hunter, but this was my first visit to Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard and I was so pleased to be taken to a new-to-me vineyard in a pocket of the Valley Id not been to before. Extraordinary views and a complimentary glass of Verdelho aside, the set-up on the verandah of the vineyards main lodge made it abundantly clear just what an amazing day was ahead of us. To the left was a giant paella pan and to the right a BBQ with duck breasts already sizzling away with two chefs busily prepping our lunch. Directly in front of us, a long table dressed in white linen and three wine glasses at each setting. Up the back, a table from which ABC1233 would be live-crossing from for the afternoon. Cue second round of “Oh my God”.

Whilst the first round of white wines was poured with instructions to drink from left to right, Carol Duncan, the outright affable afternoon host on ABC1233, began conducting the live-cross with interviews from winemakers from Audrey Wilkinson Vineyard, The Little Wine Company and Tower Estate. It was interesting to hear their perspectives of a challenging but highly rewarding industry that many of the heavy hitters haven’t been able to handle as illustrated by their departures over recent years. These days, the heart of the Hunter Valley wineries is family-run vineyards whose passion for outstanding wine-making outweighs profits.
Next up, a nifty labna-making demonstration from the Hunter Valley Cheese Company. Having made labna for the first time not long ago it was a great reminder to get another batch made up with some new ideas for flavourings.
Then our attention turned to the paella that was being cooked up by Andy Wright of The Cellar Restaurant. Three things I learnt:
+ Too much chorizo is never enough
+ I should be adding a lot more smoked paprika than I do
+ A dollop of saffron aioli atop a plate of beautifully cooked paella, whilst unconventional, is the bee’s knees.

A breather by way of olive oil and vinegar tastings from Pukara Estate was a real eye opener. Guava vinegar? Caramelised balsalmic vinegar? Wasabi olive oil? Yes, yes and yes! As we went along the line of samplers with our pieces of dipping bread, my brain was in overdrive with all the ideas about how to use each oil or vinegar.
So by this point, just when we thought we couldn’t take anymore of our minds being blown, along comes a fresh row of wines, this time reds, to accompany the next course which just happens to be one of my favourite dishes of all time – duck. Local duck nonetheless, from the same farm we acquired our pet chickens. This stellar dish by Matt Dillow of Verandah Restaurant made clear, in a very toothsome way, just how amazing the produce of the Hunter Valley is.  Lucky for us, Matt has kindly shared his recipe for us all to enjoy.

For a place I thought I knew well I realised quite quickly just how much of the Hunter Valley there still is for me to discover. Yes, there is great wine and food, but more that there are passionate producers who love what they do and want to share it with you. I’ll be getting out my Gregory’s and see what else I can uncover. In the meantime duck.

Dessert Cooking from the Heart

Cheat's Chocolate Mousse and Banana Ice Cream
You’ve heard of four ingredient recipes, right? Let me introduce you to one and two ingredient recipes. The first is a chocolate mousse that only uses chocolate and water and the second is a banana ice cream that only uses bananas.

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Are you feeling this bone-chilling cold weather? For the first time I can remember, the Snowy Mountains have lived up to their name before the June long weekend. It’s time for some serious fingertip defrosting food.

Chocolate Lollies Cider Bread

Following on from our trip to Bilpin in the Blue Mountains, we arrived in the town of Leura in the late afternoon. With only a short time before the shops closed for the day’s trading, we went for a wander down The Mall. Leura has always catered for the well-to-do daytripper and weekend visitor with charming shops and chic eateries that run the length of the main strip. The surrounding streets are filled with attractive mountain homes, from quaint cottages to luxurious mansions, all with established gardens of deciduous trees, hydrangeas and roses.

Running down the middle of The Mall are cherry trees, which in springtime are bursting with pink buds. But right now, it’s the start of winter and the trees are like skeletons as the mercury hits 10C at 4pm. First stop is Josephans, a dedicated handmade chocolate emporium that not only sells row upon row of chocolates made from Fairtrade couverture chocolate, but also conducts chocolate making and appreciation workshops.  This is a slick operation with every chocoholics need taken care of, from drinking chocolate to large slabs of your preferred flavour. I walk out with a gift box (for myself) containing Mayan Chilli, Lime & Basil, Orange & Mint, Walnut Halves, Hazelnut Praline and Honey & Hazelnut. Oh, and a side order of Chai Tigers (amazing chocolate balls covered in a chai spice sugar dust) and one each of the white, milk & dark chocolate fish shaped treats. I would have included photos, but they didn’t last the weekend…

The next stop is The Candy Store (because we obviously needed more treats). The children suddenly stop whining. They are in a state of Willy Wonka fixation. There are hundreds of jars wall-to-wall with every sweet imaginable. All those you remember from your childhood plus the ones you’ve seen in the movies that have been imported from the USA and beyond. With Pez dispenser refills and a bag of Cobbers, Flying Saucers, Red Frogs and Sour Peach Feet in hand, we head to Leura Cellars to collect an adult pre-dinner drink. They have a huge range of beer and cider by the bottle and being inspired by our apple picking adventures we settle on a bottle of Small Acres Cyder, whose operation is located relatively nearby in Orange on the other side of the Mountains. The staff here are very knowledgeable and fun and always helpful when you have trouble settling on a bottle.

Heading back to the hotel, I notice the newly opened Leura Garage, which looks very inviting from the outside with potted flowers, fruit trees and lap rugs for those brave enough to sit outside. We’ve booked elsewhere for dinner and I’m disappointed to learn it’s not open until 10am the next morning, which rules it out for breakfast. At dinner, my friend tells me they were there the night before and the pizza was excellent. Also, that they have a surprisingly good selection of wine and tapas style eats. Apparently the locals are very chuffed to have it open.

If we weren’t awake the next morning at 6am when the kids decided to use our bed as a trampoline, we were when jolted by the 5C temperatures as we wandered The Mall an hour later looking for somewhere, anywhere open for breakfast. It seems all the sensible people are still under their doonas as we jump in the car and head to Katoomba, but not before we spot the CWA ladies setting up their market in the Hall on Megalong St. Too tempted by the display, we get out of the car again and hurry inside to meet Peter who bakes his own walnut & ginger bread and a warming cinnamon scented honey & fruit bread. A small operator, his business card notes he’s only at this small market each Friday and every second Saturday and at Lawson Market on the 3rd Sunday of each month. It’s enough for him given he goes without sleep the whole night before a market day to bake his batches. At least he’d be warm near the ovens.

Cheats Chocolate Mousse and Banana Ice Cream

You’ve heard of four ingredient recipes, right? Let me introduce you to one and two ingredient recipes. The first is a chocolate mousse that only uses chocolate and water and the second is a banana ice cream that only uses bananas.
In the spirit of the shortness of these recipes I will make this quick…

French food scientist Hervé This discovered an ingenious way to make chocolate mousse. He is also responsible for discovering a way to unboil an egg.
Herve This’ Chocolate Mousse
Serves 4
225g couverture chocolate
200ml water
First, prepare two bowls. One filled one-third with ice. The second, smaller enough in size to nest within the ice bowl. Set aside.
Break the chocolate into small pieces and place in a medium sized saucepan with the water over a medium heat. Stir the mixture until the chocolate until completely melted.
Pour the melted chocolate into the smaller bowl and whisk over the bowl of ice, preferably using an electric whisk to aerate as much as possible. As the chocolate cools it will thicken and appear much like whipped cream. It’s at this point that you stop whisking and start eating.
Should you over cool the mousse (it happens quite quickly), simply reheat back to fully melted and begin the whisking / cooling process again.
I served the chocolate mousse in the tiniest vessels I could find as it is so rich that several spoonfuls will satisfy even the most ardent chocolate lover.

Lots of bananas getting over ripe in the fruit bowl? Have someone who is dairy intolerant over for dessert? This is the recipe for you…
Banana Ice Cream
Serves 4
6 bananas
Peel and slice your bananas. Place the pieces on a baking tray and store in the freezer for at least 4 hours or until completely frozen.
When you are ready for your ice cream, remove the banana from the freezer and place in a food processor; whiz for several minutes until smooth and creamy. Serve immediately on it’s own or with nuts, a dash of honey or a sprinkling of Milo.
You could keep your frozen whole bananas or pieces of banana in a container until you are ready to use them – they last for months in the fridge. They can then be used for smoothies, banana cake, or in this case, ice cream. But, you wont be able to freeze your banana ice cream  it will discolour.