Masterchef fantasy restaurant menus – here’s mine

Tuesday’s Masterchef this week featured the remaining contestants (other than Lucas and Julia) being given an opportunity to make a three course meal that they would love to serve in their own restaurant/cafe. There’s much entertaining to-ing and fro-ing about the structure of the program, etc, at Reality Raving. I for one assumed that they’d been given some notice so that the ingredients they wanted – unusual in Chris’ case, unseasonal in Sam’s – could be organised.

While I will never enter Masterchef, wanting neither a career as a chef nor a role in a reality TV show, I can indulge for a few minutes a happy fantasy about what I might cook given a similar challenge.

My fantasy joint is both local, and seasonal, so to start I would offer a little glass of creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle straws. It would look a little like the fennel/orange/truffle soup from this post at Helen’s Grab Your Fork, but homelier rather than foamlier. Jerusalem artichoke soup has great depth without weight. It also provides lots of opportunities to make comments about flatulence, which might get any first date awkwardness off to a flying start. FWIW I think the soup is so good it’s worth a fart or two.

For a starter, I would offer a tasting plate of charcuterie and preserved veggies. With the Mountain Creek Farm heritage breed meats I so love I’d make a rustic pork terrine, accompanied by a tapendade made with the oily black Homeleigh Grove semi-dried olives, and a little medallion of poached and pressed beef tongue topped with some of my home-pickled, home-grown plums from last summer. I’d serve it with a herby salad – radicchio, baby endive, parsley, hazelnuts and thin tangelo segments in a mustardy dressing made with new season olive oil.

Main course would be a perfectly baked free range chook (that means a LOT of butter, some garlic, lemon and thyme) with a cauliflower gratin. Yep, cauliflower in cheesy white sauce – it might be naff, but hands up who hates it? The chicken would be sauced with a very simple puree of eschallots and sorrel which had been sweated in butter and finished with splash of cream and OK, I never said the Heart Foundation loved me, butter. There’d be some black (aka Tuscan aka lacinato aka dinosaur aka most alternatively named vegetable available or what) kale braised with olive oil and garlic, and some sweet baby carrots. The chook might look a bit like this:

But that’s not all for you, don’t be greedy. For dessert, I’d make a more elegant (and smaller) version of this Skye Gyngell – sourced recipe I made recently for a dinner party at my dear friend Cath’s place in Elizabeth Bay. I would make her give me her dear old dead Nan’s golden edged plates to use again (that’s Cath, not Skye). Little meringues, gooey inside their crisp shells, with a quenelle of chestnut poached in milk with vanilla bean* and chestnut honey, poached prunes and runny cream. Pardon the horrible flash photograph but it was a lovely long dinner and by her own admission Cath has more wine than God:

meringue cooked

Is that something you’d like to eat? And what would I be eating at your fantasy restaurant?

* Vanilla bean in Canberra I hear you ask? I’m not a purist on the seasonal and local thing – it’s a matter of emphasis, not a religion.

A better kind of lemon chicken

One of the joys of Canberra is the four distinct seasons, and of all of them Autumn is my favourite. Although this summer wasn’t as bakingly hot as it has been for the last couple of years, it was still hot enough that I’m enjoying the beginnings of briskness in the mornings and snuggling in a warm bed at night.

If you try to eat seasonally, particularly if you grow some of your own food, Autumn is the best time of year. I live in a cul-de-sac of eleven houses, four of which have veggie gardens, and it’s quite common to see someone or other ambling across the road with a handful (or a box) of excess produce. It was our turn last week, when our neighbour Kev dropped in with two lovely early butternut pumpkins from his patch. I’m hoping for some figs, as our tree is tiny. It’s one of three in this street and the next grown from a cutting from No. 8′s magnificent tree.

One of the best arrivals with the cooler weather is lemons. Meyer lemons seem to be the most commonly grown variety locally because they tolerate cold fairly well, but I spotted the first fresh thin-skinned Eurekas of the year at Choku Bai Jo last week. While they’re very common and often cold-stored to sell over the summer, freshness really brings out their appetising sharpness. I love their colour too which is more “lemony” than intensely yellow.

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Duckie’s Mount Yum

[for meat-eaters, but can be converted to vegetarian]

In my (reasonably broad) experience of men, each likes to have their Signature Dish, a culinary piece that they’ve stumbled upon or invented (or mother used to make) and have tweaked to make it utterly Theirs. It is carried with them through the years, brought out to impress the chicks, and then served to the family proudly over the years and passed down from father to son etc etc… ok, maybe that last bit’s an exaggeration, but most of it rings true, no?

Best Beloved is a enthusiastic but slightly nervous cook. He travels widely in the foodie universe, but never without a guidebook. This following dish is one of the very few things he will cook without a recipe; it is a family favourite, and went nameless until I decided to blog it, upon which Bumblebee decided that it should be called Mount Yum. Before this, it was always know as ‘your/my chicken/nut dish’.

To celebrate the fact that it is made without a recipe on the bench, I will not be providing ingredient quantities. You need to think about how much each person can eat and provide enough of everything to divide between the number of people eating. There’s no right or wrong; substitutions are not only welcome, but encouraged. There are endless possibilities. Best Beloved rarely strays from his favourite combination, but the other day we had no pine nuts and I persuaded him to use slivered almonds rather than popping down to the shop. Lo! It worked! (Sigh.)

Please excuse the crockery, we’re waiting for it all to break. If BB had known I was doing this before he started, he would have brought out his collection of 60s Poole pottery!

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Araluen 2008: Paella


Please note that the family Virgo has already advised me that I didn’t stitch the pictures together too well.

My old and dear friend Stevie is a regular commenter here and blogs on his beefchange (like a treechange, but with cattle) at WoodenSpoon.  He and our friend  Captain Ken (that is his nom de progrock.  No, I am not kidding.) are part of a group of friends who started camping together at Araluen on the last weekend in November every year since their first year at university, 1983. When I was in Year 7. Just sayin’.

We first went three years ago, and again this November.  We had planned to go each time in between, but life and a Federal election intervened.

The hosts are Fabian and Judy, at the family property on the Deua River.  The valley is in lush stone fruit growing country, 30 clicks inland from Moruya and a couple of hours from Canberra.  There is a beautiful old wooden house with about 80 rainwater tanks, an Aga cooker and a big fireplace. At every turn there’s another little verandah with a couple more comfy chairs to sit in and admire the view.

A ten minute trek down the truly stupid hill takes you to a beautiful grassy flat near the river.  It wasn’t in flow this year, but there’s still a beautiful warm swimming hole surrounded by very steep treed banks.  And there’s a nice little flat shady spot where responsible parents can nurse their hangovers and respond when one of the kids shouts more loudly than usual from their floating crocodile.

As the years have gone by, there are more and more kids, but adults still slightly outnumber them.  There is a core of four-day campers, and others come and go for a night, or a day or two as they can manage.

There are some Big Serious Jobs that smooth the whole event, like mowing the flat with the tractor and chainsawing up enough wood to keep the fire burning all weekend.  Fortunately there are many big capable men who really get into those bits, which leaves the chicks some time for sitting around.

There is usually one big special meal together on the Saturday night.  The rest of the time, you make something when you or the kids are hungry and whoever fancies some is welcome.  Special meals in the past have included camp oven pizzas made to order by Simon, a whole fire roasted pig, a baked dinner, etc.  They are not always successes – the spectre of The Great Boiler Chicken Disaster of 1987 hang heavy over the air this year, when a paella with chicken and chorizo for sixteen was to be the main event.

Fabian was the Maestro of the paella and others brought tapas to share – huge green olives a, fiery spiced almonds, batatas bravas and anchovies with pickled chillies.

Fabian was planning to triple this Gourmet Traveller recipe for eight, and it had some specific information about how the cooking should be done for authenticity:

As with all classics, paella varies from village to village and even from household to household. Some say true paella Valenciana must be cooked outside over a fire made of orange branches, dished up with a boxwood spoon and eaten only at midday. In his book, Catalan Cuisine, Andrew Colman goes one further and writes that for men cooking and sharing paella, the only acceptable topics of conversation are “women, bullfighting and crops”.

The first stage was the lengthy browning of chicken pieces and chorizo.  Fortunately Fabian has a gargantuan wok from their Webber. While that was going on, the prep squad had mobilised. It takes a long time to infuse six litres of chicken stock with saffron on a gas ring, but there were many helpers.

Also, there was a bloke just standing around. Perhaps he was trying to work out whether the camping party had been infiltrated by one of the Milats.

One of the tricky things that the recipe didn’t mention was how to manage water from the tarp above you bucketing into the wok. We found that stationing a tall person there to artfully empty the pooling tarp worked OK.

It’s hard to serve paella glamorously when you’re to be eating off your lap wearing a headlamp and it’s pissing down, but you’re very unlikely to get any complaints. I had two helpings, and extra for breakfast. Next year: Woks of Fire!

There’s a set of the paella, and of the whole camp at flickr.

Pantry Challenge

Kathryn Elliot of Limes & Lycopene is running another Pantry Challenge, inviting readers to rustle up something tasty from a list of staple ingredients.

I wasn’t able to participate last time , and was happy to see the launch of round two until I noticed she’d taken vinegar off the list! No vinegar! And no lemon juice! But I decided to do it anyway, and to do it without buying anything for the meal.

A meal from the pantry can be something knocked up in a few minutes, but that’s not the only way to make something quickly. In this case, I prepared a couple of elements in the morning and assembled it all in just a few minutes at night.

Here’s the ingredients list, with the ones I used in bold:

Mograbieh Dinner Salad

1. Olive oil

2. Tinned tomatoes
3. Tinned legumes or beans
4. Soy sauce
5. Frozen vegetables
6. Flour
7. Pasta or rice
8. Tinned fish
9. Eggs
10. Bread
11. Olives
12. Meat from the freezer
13. Fresh onions
14. One spice or spice mix
15. One dried herb or herb mix

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Real home cooking

I first got the idea for a food blog by posting some cookery related stuff on my personal blog, crazybrave. This is my favourite of those posts, from June 2007.

A word of warning. Some of my best friends are vegan, a choice I respect. This post is not for them, and it and other posts of this ilk will be in the category “Not Safe for Vegans”. Check the category list under the post titles if you’d rather avoid them.)

Under the fold we have chicken four ways: Continue reading →

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