Kinfolk dinner on the Pittwater

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Kinfolk Sydney Dinner, l'Esprit de la Mer, was held recently at The Avalon Sailing Club on the Pittwater, which just so happens to be down the road from me.  This was an opportunity I couldn't miss, a Kinfolk Dinner on the edge of the beautiful Pittwater, I wasn't disappointed.

The weather that day was perfect, although more like summer than autumn with a temperature of 25 degrees.  We have had the warmest, driest Autumn on record this year, in fact it couldn't have been more perfect.

We were treated to Piper-Heidsieck Cuvee Brut on arrival which was wonderfully refreshing given the warm temperature, inside the boat house a shared table of hors d'oeuvres was beautifully laid out which gave the guests an opportunity to mingle and get to know one another, some of whom followed each other on Instagram and were meeting in person for the first time.  I was delighted to meet some people living locally, that I didn't already know, and to catch up with friends.

Our individual place settings were a gift which included Mario's recipe for boneless lamb loin and seasonal vegetables together with a sachet of his thyme, rosemary and lavender salt all packaged up in a lovely little jar.  A hand written poem was also attached which in my case was an excerpt from Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

"The fair breeze blew,
The white foam flew,
and the forrow followed free
We were the first
to ever burst
into the silent sea."

All in all it was a wonderful evening.  We were all seated out on the wharf on one extremely long table beautifully styled for the main dinner.  We started with onion soup with cheesy croutons followed by shared dishes of fried whitebait, roasted chickpea salad with za'atar, rosemary straw potatoes with lemon salt, cloudy bay diamond shell surf clams with homemade pasta and whole baked cone bay saltwater barramundi in salt with basil mayonnaise.

The whole barramundi was not only delicious it also looked most impressive having been baked in a salt crust, a dish definitely worth trying at home.  Champagne continued to be served throughout the meal courtesy of The Champagne Bureau and was perfectly matched with all the seafood dishes.  I particularly remember the Veuve Fourny Blanc de Blancs Brut before finishing off with 2004 vintage Moet!

Then to finish off this wonderful feast large apple crumbles were placed along the table to be shared.  The warm apple and cinnamon hung in the evening air.  The sun set over the Pittwater and the candles burned into the evening, the evening remained warm and balmy and no one seemed eager to leave.  This is the magic of the beautiful Pittwater and the Northern Beaches of Sydney, to me it is the perfect place to be.

Saffron Milk Caps + Roast Beef + Witlof + Horseradish Cream

Monday, May 19, 2014

It's getting cooler in the mornings now and with that I begin to see the seasonal change in the fresh produce at our weekly visits to the markets.  I feel ready for the change, warmer, slower cooked food and a perfect excuse to spend more time beside a warm stove.  We have only had a few of these days so far this year, as we live in a south Mediterranean climate on the Northern Beaches of Sydney.

What caught my eye at the markets recently were the Lactarius Delicious Saffron Milk Caps (also known as pine mushrooms) as they grow beneath pine trees.  The pine forests on the outskirts of Sydney are where you will find passionate local foragers, as these wonderful gems are abundant at this time of year.  I haven't had the pleasure of a weekend in the forest as yet, fortunately I know a few people who sell their finds at the local markets.  These wild mushrooms are usually only available between February and May when the weather is conducive, so I make the most of them when I can.  Antonio Carluccio's Complete Mushroom Book the quiet hunt, is a good reference book which I have found most helpful.

They are different in flavour to the mushrooms that I used to pick in the cow paddocks as a child on cold misty Autumn mornings in New Zealand.  They are firm and nutty with the most vivid orange colour, hence the name Saffron.  I loved picking mushrooms with my father as a child.  It didn't  matter to me if it rained or was really cold.  There was always much to learn when picking mushrooms.

Initially, I had to overcome my fear of cows as they were rather intrigued with this little person carrying a bucket.  They had a habit of following behind you and when you turned around they would stop and on it would go, never getting close enough to do you any harm but none the less scaring you as they were so much bigger than yourself.   Then came the lessons on what to pick and why.  My father would draw my attention to the colour and texture even the smell of what we picked, making sure I knew how to distinguish the difference between edible and not.  It was always worth the effort though, getting up early in case someone got there before you.   I would arrive home fully ladened, cold and hungry ready to cook them for breakfast.

If picking your own is not something you can do, then the markets in Autumn are where you will find them, they are well worth the trip, once eaten never forgotten.

The recipe I'm sharing today is Roast Beef with Saffron Milk Caps cooked with butter, garlic and thyme, served with a red wine gravy, cauliflower puree and witlof.  I have used a different cut of beef this time, deciding instead to use a cut of beef that was very popular in the 1950's called a bolar blade.  It is more tender than most blade beef which makes it excellent for roasting.  This recipe serves 6.

We particularly like a nice big red wine like a Chateauneuf du Pape with this meal.

Roast Beef

1.5 kg bolar blade
1 tablespoon of duck fat

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees.

Season the meat with salt and pepper.  Heat the duck fat in a cast iron frying pan and brown the meat well on all sides, remove from the stove and place in the oven for 1½ hours.  Remove from the oven then place the meat on a plate and cover with parchment paper and foil set aside and allow to rest for 20 mins.  Set the pan aside and reserve the meat juices for the gravy.

Cauliflower Puree

1 large cauliflower
100 mls cream

In a large pan fill with 2 inches of water and put on a high heat cover with a lid, bring to the boil.  Wash the cauliflower removing outer leaves, cut into florets and place in the boiling water, add a teaspoon of salt, cover and cook for 20 minutes until tender.  Remove from the heat and drain in a colander then return the cauliflower to the saucepan.  Add cream and the knob of butter and with a stick blender process until smooth adding a little extra cream and butter as needed.  Season to taste.


6 witlof
50 grams of butter
300 mls of white wine

Remove any damaged outer leaves and cut in half length ways.  Heat the butter over a medium heat in a cast iron enamel frying pan.  Place the witlof cut side down until golden in colour then turn over and  add the white wine to the pan then cover with a lid.  Reduce the heat to low and allow to cook for 20 minutes until tender.  Remove from the heat and season to taste.

Saffron Milk Caps + Garlic + Thyme

500 grams saffron milk caps
2 cloves of garlic sliced
50 grams of butter
a few sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed enough for 1 teaspoon
juice of half a lemon

I wash my mushrooms under running water top side only.  I do this to make sure the pine needles and any dirt that has fallen on them is removed.   I drain them well then dry them with a clean tea towel.  You may wish to use a damp cloth instead of washing them in water.  Clean and trim the stems and slice the mushrooms thinly and set aside.  Peel and thinly slice 2 cloves of garlic.  In a cast iron frying pan heat the butter over a medium heat,  add the garlic, thyme, a pinch of salt and stir making sure they don't burn for 1-2 minutes then add the mushrooms and stir gently, add the lemon juice continue cooking for a further 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

Red Wine Gravy

meat juices from the pan
200 mls red wine
500 mls beef stock
1 knob of butter

Place the pan that the beef was cooked in on the stove over a high heat, add the red wine and stir well scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate the meat juices with wine.  Allow to reduce slightly and for the alcohol to evaporate then lower the heat to medium before adding the beef stock, allow the gravy to reduce to a consistency you prefer then add the butter and stir to combine.  Strain the gravy into a heat proof jug and set aside keeping it warm until ready to serve.

Horseradish Cream

200 mls creme fraiche or sour cream
1 horseradish root

Place the creme fraiche or sour cream in a small mixing bowl.  Peel the horseradish root and finely grate 1-2 tablespoons, ideally with a micro planer, then add to the creme fraiche or sour cream.  Add a little salt and more or less grated horseradish depending upon how hot you like it.


For my mother's love

Sunday, May 11, 2014

I suppose it was a natural progression to go from the garden with my father, to the kitchen with my mother. Eating things raw in the garden was one thing however putting the produce together for a meal was another.

My mother was an intuitive cook, so you had to watch her carefully if you wanted to learn anything.  I was fascinated at how she never measured anything.  She just knew how much to add to things she was making to get the texture just right.  I remember thinking I'm never going to be able to do that and would constantly ask questions as I watched her work.  Nothing showed off her skill better than a batch of scones.

We always had visitors popping in for morning tea unexpectedly so scones were a clear favourite.  It didn't matter if it was a last minute arrangement or not, the oven would be turned on and mum would get to work quickly putting ingredients into a mixing bowl, rubbing the butter ever so lightly only using the very tips of her fingers as it is important not to over work the dough.  Milk was then added and a butter knife was used with skill to bring the dough together.

Before you knew it the dough was on a floured bench being carefully rolled out then cut into squares with the same butter knife.  They were handled with care as if they were hot to touch as the more you work the mix the tougher it becomes.  The aim is light and airy. A milk wash was brushed on then straight into the oven they went.  Cleaning up took place with the same speed so by the time the scones were cooked the table for morning tea was set, home made jam would come out of the pantry, there was always more than one variety.  I preferred the plum jam because of its tartness.  The cream was whipped, the kettle on and the tea pot warmed.  It was an exercise conducted with military precision.  Scones would come out of the oven and placed in a basket with a linen tea towel lightly covering them to keep them warm.

Let's face it, having a young person under your feet asking questions incessantly is not always convenient although she did appreciate my help.  I remember she was particular about how things had to be done.  The vegetables had to be cut and stirred a certain way.  I was allowed to do specific tasks and they had to be done exactly her way otherwise she would do it herself.

There was none of this standing on a stool with a shower of flour, coco and sugar everywhere while I wielded a wooden spoon with batter all over my face, which was frustrating as I was young and impatient and this was exactly what I wanted to do.  You can forget eating raw cake mixture or licking the bowl, that was out of the question as,

"it is dangerous to eat raw egg," or "you will spoil your appetite for dinner," she would say.

I so badly wanted to try it, but before there was a chance it was placed in the sink and rinsed out.  This was another habit of my mother's that took a bit of getting used to, namely cleaning up as she went so that by the time you had finished cooking you had hardly any tidying up to do at all.  I was eager to learn.  You want to touch and taste everything but neither were allowed before we sat down to eat.  These were the rules and we, my brother, sister and I abided by them.

As much as I found these habits frustrating I came to appreciate her methods and much later I find myself doing things in exactly the same way.  What I find so interesting is that I now have a child of my own with him wanting to learn to cook.  Apparently I am just like my mother, actually worse, she told me recently.  In spite of this it never put us off nor has it stopped my son from mastering the ability to cook.

There was method in her madness as at a very young age we all became competent cooks.  It was only natural that we learnt to cook the things we liked most.  Mine was desserts which meant I took care of one course entirely.   A clear favourite of mine was cheesecake and lemon meringue pie.  My sister loved to bake, she was very good at it and still is.  I have fond memories of her poppyseed cake with lemon icing.  My brother was younger than both of us however he managed to make his favourite banana cake also iced with lemon icing.  He is a good cook and to this day a really good baker.  We always felt rather special when called upon to make the recipes that we had practised.  We entertained often and became confident cooking for others at an early age.

It is nice to take time occasionally and remember our mothers and what we learnt from them.  To this day my friends know that they can always pop in for tea, I suppose that this is something else I have my mother to thank for.

Sea mist, happy memories and Porcini's

Monday, April 21, 2014

We are sometimes greeted with a sea mist of a morning as it rolls over the Pittwater and when it does it's spectacular.  We watch it as it envelopes Scotland Island and wait for the morning sun to pierce through as it recedes as the temperature warms up.  Our usual weekend swims turn to walks along the beach with the promise of a warm nourishing breakfast afterwards. 

I often find myself drifting back to past experiences when I'm looking for inspiration to know what to cook sometimes.  Certain times of the year or the weather can trigger a wonderful memory or flavour.  

We had had a wonderful holiday one Autumn staying just outside the lovely town of San Gimignano in Tuscany.  On our arrival we had passed some of the local village folk early in the morning mushroom picking.  They were dressed beautifully in their country attire, cane baskets and walking sticks in hand.  I didn't want to bother with the usual sightseeing, I just wanted to leap out of the car and join them.  

The following morning, with the morning fog deep in  the valley and the sun just peeping through, I set off to do some mushroom picking of my own.  I will never forget the joy of finding fresh porcini mushrooms in the forest,  it was such a treat as I had never had a fresh one before.  The owners of the auberge, where we were staying, kindly cooked them for us that evening it was so special.

One morning recently we awoke to a foggy morning and my thoughts went immediately back to that morning in San Gimignano and the wonderful flavour of the porcini mushroom.  Despite the lack of forest to forage in and the fact that they don't grow here in Australia, I wasn't to be deterred.  Fortunately we can purchase dried porcini.  Frankly I find them more fragrant than the fresh ones and once rehydrated, work so well in omelettes.  They didn't disappoint, even as I removed the lid from the jar they were stored in, the aroma was intoxicating.  

Porcini omelette

3 organic eggs
knob of butter, ghee or coconut oil
dash of water
small handful of fresh parsley and basil
1 clove of garlic
a handful of dried porcini mushrooms 
boiling water
grana padano parmesan cheese

Place your porcini mushrooms in a heatproof bowl or jug and cover with boiling water and set aside while preparing the rest of the ingredients.  You should allow 15-20 minutes for them to fully hydrate, then drain and reserve the liquor to add to soups or stocks for another dish.  Peel and thinly slice the garlic and fry lightly in butter together with the drained hydrated porcini and a pinch of salt, then set aside.  This should be enough for 2 or 3 omelettes depending upon how generous you wish to be.

Crack three eggs in bowl add a dash of water and whisk until light and frothy.

Heat the butter in a small frying pan until sizzling but make sure you don't burn the butter.  Pour in the eggs and using a spatula move the egg mixture from side to side gently allowing the eggs to cook.  Reduce the heat to low and add the porcini and garlic, then add chopped parsley and basil on top and then grate a generous quantity of grana padano parmesan cheese.  Fold in half and serve immediately with a further grating of cheese ... enjoy!

sardines and morning swims

Saturday, April 5, 2014

When autumn refuses to accept that it isn't summer and crisp days refuse to appear as the leaves start to change colour, an indian summer is upon us.  On the northern beaches of Sydney we are lucky enough to enjoy this kind of weather more often than not.  This year though appears to have been hotter and more humid than ever.

The frangipanis and hibiscus are still in flower along with the last of the gardenias and ginger.  They fill the warm afternoon air with their perfume, there is a false sense of the cooler weather approaching.

As the crowds disappear, the beaches become our own again.  The locals who have stayed away through the busy summer season are back and the rhythm of life continues again as normal.

Saturday morning and we head to the beach early to have a walk and a swim.  We arrive in time to see the sunrise over the ocean, a special part of the day and not to be missed.  We linger, longer than we intended and find that we have missed breakfast so, salty from swimming and hungry, we choose a home cooked brunch over the lovely cafes, which at this time of day are a little too busy.

Sardines are one of our weekend treats.  Fond memories of my childhood are responsible for this tradition.  My father would make breakfast on the weekends and it was always something warm and nourishing.  Sardines on toast with lots of black pepper and a spritz of lemon is a recurrent memory.  Fresh sardines were not easy to find in New Zealand, so the tinned variety was used instead.  Living in Sydney, they are more readily available.  I rather enjoy the fresh slightly smoked ones, they have a lovely flavour and are filleted ready to go.

Samphire is a succulent and is also known as sea asparagus with a slightly salty flavour and is a perfect accompaniment with fish. It's best eaten in the summer when the leaves are bright green.  If you are buying frozen sardines make sure that they are butterflied.  I made the mistake of buying them whole and, as they are so fragile, they fall apart once handled, never again.

Sardines + Samphire

sardines whole or butterflied 3-4 per person
1 large knob butter
2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
500 grams samphire
1 lemon

Prepare the samphire by washing it thoroughly in cold water and checking carefully for any roots or woody pieces.  In a large pan bring fresh water to the boil then add a teaspoon of salt and add the samphire and cook for three to four minutes.  Remove from the heat and drain immediately returning the samphire to the pan, add a big knob of butter and ground pepper and toss so the butter and pepper coats the samphire.  Place on a serving platter.

Place scaled and gutted whole or butterflied sardines on a baking paper lined baking tray.  Sprinkle with salt, paprika and little knobs of butter.  Place under a hot grill for five to six minutes then turn your whole fish over and continue for a further four to five minutes or until golden and crispy. If you have chosen butterflied sardines they will only need to be cooked on one side and for only five to six minutes or until golden and crispy.  Remove immediately from under the grill and place on the bed of samphire and serve immediately with lemon or lime wedges on the side.

This is a perfect recipe for those, like myself, who follow a paleo or beyond paleo lifestyle, enjoy.

Gardening and the pleasure of sharing

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A few years ago one autumn afternoon travelling through the countryside northwest of Sydney, I came upon a roadside stall selling figs.

There is nothing I enjoy more than picking up supplies this way.  There were a number of different varieties to choose from along with some fig trees in pots available for purchase.  Being a keen gardener and growing my own figs, I had loads of questions about their gardening techniques and the varieties they were growing.

Gardeners can talk forever, eager to learn from one another.  As we chatted away, I had noticed that they didn't have the variety that I was growing.  Mine had been given to me by another keen gardener, it was the smallest cutting in a little pot.  I had nurtured it and it had grown into a lovely big tree.  Once again I had been on a road trip in the country and this gentleman had taken the time to show me all his trees and share his secrets on growing figs.  After sharing the story of my fig tree, I had offered to come back in the winter with some cuttings.

To their surprise I turned up one winters' afternoon with the cuttings.  They were delighted and promised to grow another tree for me, I was to get in touch the following year.  I wrote their business name on my kitchen blackboard so I wouldn't forget and there it stayed for many years as due to illness my driving around the countryside had been temporarily put on hold.  Friends occasionally would enquire about the name "figlicious" on the board as it stayed there year after year and I never stopped thinking about whether the cuttings had been successful.

Finally this autumn I made a visit and they invited me to see the farm.  How special it was to be shown around and to see all the trees that had grown from a handful of cuttings years earlier.  I was in fig heaven eating fresh figs picked directly from the tree.  I was told that the cuttings that I had given them many years ago were in fact known as "Baida" which in arabic means "white" and is a little known variety originally from Persia, whose skin ripens to a beautiful yellow hew with lovely fragrant white flesh inside.

They had never forgotten that winters' afternoon when I had dropped off the handful of cuttings and had wondered what had happened to me.  They were as delighted as I was to meet up again.  With my boot loaded with figs they had kindly given me as a gift, I was reminded that this had all been due to not only the love of figs but of the love of gardening and the growing of ones own.  In my experience most if not all gardeners love to pass on cuttings or seeds so others can enjoy the pleasures they have experienced.

Baked Figs + Prosciutto + Goats Cheese + Salad
serves 4

8 figs
8 slices of prosciutto
150g roll of goats cheese
small packet of micro greens
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Wash and dry the figs and cut the tops off of the stems.  Stand the figs upright and cut a cross about half way down but not all the way to the base.  Then with your thumb and forefinger slightly squeeze the base of the figs, this will make it easier to fill with the goats cheese.  Make sure the goats cheese is cold, just removed from the fridge, before cutting into 8 slices, as this makes it easier to slice.  Fill each fig with a slice of cheese.  Wrap a slice of prosciutto around each fig then place them on a paper lined baking tray.  Bake in a pre-heated 200C oven for ten minutes or until the prosciutto is crispy and the cheese softened and toasted on top.  Remove from the oven and serve immediately with the salad. While the figs are baking, wash and spin the micro greens.  Mix the olive oil and pomegranate molasses together and set aside.  Place the salad on individual serving plates and serve two figs per person.  Drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle with salt.

Fig + Buffalo Mozzarella + Watercress salad

12 ripe figs
1 bunch of watercress
small packet of micro greens
6 buffalo mozzarella
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons pomegranate molasses

Wash and dry the figs and cut the tops off of the stems.  Cut the figs in half.  Wash the micro greens and watercress thoroughly and spin dry.  Tear the mozzarella in half and then into quarters.  Place the prepared micro greens and watercress on a plater, then place the figs and mozzarella on top of the greens.  Drizzle with the dressing and sprinkle with salt to taste.

Note:  I use a pomegranate molasses that has no added sugar or colour.  I also like to use figs that are about to split their skins, this means I don't have to worry about cutting a cross in the top instead I turn them up upside down and with my thumb and forefinger I squeeze them open.

Figs + Yoghurt + Rosewater


Wash and dry the figs and cut the tops off of the stems.  Cut in half and then into quarters.  Place the figs in a bowl with yoghurt and splash with rosewater. Enjoy this for breakfast or as a snack anytime.

You may have noticed that there aren't any serving suggestions here.  I leave that to your discretion, enjoy.

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