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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Year In My Kitchen: The End.

So that’s it. Last night was the end. For now at least…

Mushroom Risotto

When I decided to save the mushroom risotto until the end, it was for a couple of reasons – firstly, I love mushroom risotto and secondly, I already have a pretty good recipe and was curious to see if Jamie could still wow me at this late stage in the game.

So to his basic risotto recipe, I added a whole heap of mushrooms (enoki, shitake, oyster, Swiss brown, button) that I’d gently pan fried in quite a lot of butter with some garlic and thyme, then stirred through with lemon juice, more butter, finely chopped parsley and grated parmesan.

Then as instructed by Jamie, I served it up in its giant pot in the middle of the table and let the ladies serve themselves.

Oh, that’s right, did I mention that this was a celebration?

I could hardly cook my final Jamie recipe alone – there was French champagne to be drunk, toasts to be made and relief and achievements to be celebrated!

So I served up Jamie’s mushroom risotto to the girls, as we sipped our Moet and reminisced about the thing I did this last 10 months.

The risotto was a hit and we all back for seconds. I’m happy to say that Jamie could still impress me at the very end and that I will now use Jamie’s recipe for mushroom risotto above my own (tried & tested & family favourite for many years) recipe. So how about that for a finale!

The question is, what have I learnt along the way?

* That there’s no such thing as too much lemon zest.
* That there’s no real way to measure a knob of butter or a glug of olive oil, so just trust your instincts.
* That fennel seeds are an incredibly useful ingredient.
* That being scared of a recipe is actually just laziness.
* That sometimes you need to leave work early just to make sure you don’t eat at midnight.
* That just coz people work in a fish shop, doesn’t mean they care about fish and what you plan to do with it.
* That not all butchers are handsome.
* That making pasta is cheaper than joining a gym, but probably not as effective.
* That cooking for my friends and family is still one of my favourite things to do.
* That killing a lobster really is as easy as one two three.
* That pork cooked in a slow oven overnight might keep you awake with worry, but will satisfy your stomach no end.
* That melted butter is sometimes considered a “sauce”.
* That the Easter bunny still delivers eggs, even if you eat his cousin.
* That Jamie Oliver is most definitely a great cook and someone I’ve enjoyed sharing my kitchen with.
* That “cooking every recipe in one cookbook in one year and blogging about it” is a great conversation starter.
* That cooking every recipe in one cookbook in one year and blogging about it is a one way ticket to weight gain.
* That there’s no such thing as too much lemon zest.

And now that we are at the end, I want to say thank you for supporting me along the way. Hopefully you have enjoyed yourself, laughed a little, been inspired and that – like me – you have ended up discovering lots of new foodie things.

I don’t think it’s quite hit me yet, that it’s all over, but maybe once I move the book from the recipe book holder and onto the shelf it will seem more real! However all the encouragement I’ve had along the way has definitely sunk in and made me realise that I have actually done something quite special, so yay and thanks for that!

158 recipes, 304 days, a battered cookbook and one exhausted cook. A Year In My Kitchen has come to an end.


PS – See you soon though, for another food adventure.

Monday, June 7, 2010

A penultimate feast of Neptunian proportion.

Last night was a seafood feast and six recipes in one sitting.

Shell-Roasted Scallops the Old-School French Way
Shell-Roasted Scallops with Sweet Tomato & Basil Sauce
Shell-Roasted Scallops with Ginger, Soy and Coriander
How to Steam a Lobster
How to Grill a Lobster
Baked John Dory in the Bag with Tomatoes and Balsamic Vinegar

The day began with a trip to the fish markets to pick me up some feast-worthy seafood. A lobster, hand-picked (not literally by my hand!) from the tank, a whole Snapper (they had sold out of John Dory) and scallops (still in their shells). Luckily, I had Evans with me (she was my side-kick and sous-chef for the day, as well as a guest at the dinner table that night), coz she reassured me that she was going to be there to back me up while I killed the lobster. See, I wavered a little at the tank. The very friendly and slightly amused lady at the fish markets wanted to check that I was sure I wanted to kill Lobby myself, coz she was happy to do it there for me. I looked at Evans, I hesitated slightly, she reassured me and then I was back on task. Yes, I was sure I wanted to (and could) do it myself. About 27% sure. But still sure. A little less sure when she handed him over in a bag. Hello! A bag? No box? He can claw his way right out of a bag. But OK.

I asked the fish market lady about handling and when I got him home I held him by his antennas (poking out of the bag) and carefully put him on the top shelf of my freezer. He’d been pretty agreeable up to this point and fair play to him, apart from a bit of a jerk against the cold, I think he was resigned to his fate and he didn’t really struggle as I closed the door on his cold new world.

An hour or so later and I opened the freezer door to a very dopey and unresponsive lobster. Now for the hard part.

So there we were, me with knife in hand, Evans with camera at the ready and Lobby with the end in sight.

I’d read the “how to kill a lobster” page in Jamie and watched Peter Kuruvita (head chef at Flying Fish) on MasterChef, teaching the M-Cheffers how to do it, so I took the bull by the horns and I stabbed that bad boy. Straight through. Then I spun him round and I sliced him straight down the middle. OK, so I make it sound easy. Perhaps it wasn’t quite as easy as that, but it certainly wasn’t as tricky as I’d thought it would be.

The next thing to prepare was the snapper. He was being baked in a big foil pocket with a delicious tomato marinade. The marinade was sliced tomatoes and onion, whole basil leaves, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and S&P. I piled the tomato mixture onto the foil, then sat the snapper on top.

Then I folded him up into a tight little pocket-bundle.

And put him in the fridge til we were ready to go.

At this point, Evans put down the camera and stepped into the kitchen as sous-chef, so we could get started on the scallops. Evans took charge of the Sweet Tomato & Basil Sauce version and created a paste of tomato, basil, sugar, balsamic & butter. She was nervous about the way it looked – not like the picture – but I told her to trust Jamie and just go with it. I reassured her that after a year together, I’ve learnt that sometimes Jamie just knows. While Evans worked on that – sitting the scallops on the tomato mix, then some prosciutto on top of that – I made the garlic and parsley butter for the Old-School French version – sitting the scallops on finely chopped spinach, then the butter on top – and the ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil & coriander sauce dolloped on top for the Asian style. We lay all these very good-looking creations on a tray of salt (to stop the shells from slipping about) and popped them in the oven for 12 minutes.

The scallop entrees were a hit and we all had our favourite, which turned out to be (majority) the Sweet Tomato & Basil Sauce. See Evans! I told you Jamie knows best!

Next course lobster. Much excitement.

Now that I can safely say the scariest part of buying and killing a live lobster is the cost, I feel justified in telling you that I was only using half a lobster for each of the lobster recipes, rather than buying two.

So one half was to be steamed and one half to be grilled.

For the steamed half, I sprinkled him with S&P and lemon rind then some butter dots.

I might add that at this point, my neighbours might have wondered about the screams coming from my apartment. You see, he was moving. Lobby was making one last dash for freedom. Or speaking in morse-lobster-code to his other half. Whatever the case, I was fascinated, Evans was slightly disgusted, Gem was a little freaked and Stu was amused. How can a lobster that’s been frozen almost to death, then stabbed to death, cut in half, refrigerated for a few hours (in two halves!) and seasoned & marinated still have the ability to move his tail. And I promise you, we weren’t imagining it. He could have swum in my bath with the amount of flipping that was going on. He he. Still makes me laugh. In a creeped out funny ha-ha way.

Back to the steaming. To create a steamer (which I now realise I could have done in a much simpler way, but whatever!), I sat a cake tin upside-down in a pot of boiling water and sat the plate with the lobster on top, then the lid. The water continued to simmer and steam the lobster. It did make a totally bizarre and slightly underwater-like sound of deep bubbling for the 15 minutes of simmering, which added to the hilarity of the not-quite-lifeless lobster situation! But check out how good it looked when we lifted the lid!

For the grilled lobster, I left Stu in charge out at the BBQ. He got the grill nice and hot, then placed the seasoned Lobby half, flesh side down for five minutes. Then we turned him up the right way for a second, so Gem could sprinkle him with chilli and garlic, then he went face down again for another five minutes. Unfortunately at this point, we had a small disaster involving chilli fingers and Gem’s eye.

At least she was still smiling, even if she was virtually blind in one eye. She couldn’t even see how good the lobster was looking when Stu turned him right-way-up again for the last few minutes of grill time.

At last we were ready to go with the Jamie/Lizzo Seafood Feast – two sexy looking lobster halves and a cooked in a pocket Snapper.

As fantastic as the fish was – and it really was, with the sweet & sour tomato, onion, basil sauce, and the perfectly steamed and falling off the bone meat – my favourite was the chargrilled lobster. I think I could taste the pain (Gem’s not Lobby’s!!) that went into it, which made me appreciate it even more! Seriously though, they were both quite amazing. The steamed half was juicy and flavoursome, the grilled half was sweet and smokey. And I think this picture really sums it up.

There was not a single piece of flesh left on that lobster. The fact that I whipped out the pliers from my tool box, to give us extra leverage, sure helped.

So there we were. Stuffed full at the end of an age of seafood feasting. And the penultimate meal in the Jamie experiment.

I have to thank my gorgeous friends for giving up their Saturday night for 7 hours of cooking and eating in my small apartment. I appreciate their full stomachs and the injuries endured… And especially Evans who worked tirelessly to back me up all day – at the markets and in the kitchen. Thank you Miss E.

And now here I am, with just one recipe to go!


PS – I suppose I should tell you now, that even though I am at the end of this year (well, 10 months!) of cooking with Jamie, this is not the end for my kitchen experiments. I have a plan. I am going on holiday next week (not specifically to recover from AYIMK, but it is quite lovely timing!) and when I return, I plan to start something new. In order to keep up the culinary challenge, I will cook one recipe each week, from a different cookbook each week, until I work my way through all my cookbooks. Not obviously to finish every cookbook (good lord, that would probably kill me!), but so I have at least cooked one thing from all the cookbooks I own (of which there are many – four full shelves!).

PPS – So please consider this an invitation to stick with me. I have loved your support along the way and hope that you have loved following my kitchen exploits.

PPS – One to go!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Shopping list = 4kg salt. Sure, why not?

Last night I cooked my MasterChef dish. You know. It’s the dish we’ve all thought about. The one dish that you’d cook to wow Gary, George and Matt. Well, I’ve found mine.

Whole Fish Baked in a Salt Crust

So there I was lugging home several bags of salt (purchased under the bewildered eye of my local Woollies checkout chick) and embarking on one of my favourite types of recipes from the last ten months. These recipes I speak of, are the ones that seem at the otuset to be super difficult, time consuming and frankly, a bit ridiculous. And then I find myself sitting down to eat them and thinking that actually they are nowhere near as difficult and ridiculous as they first seemed, but actually incredibly fun and rewarding. And pretty impressive, if I do say so myself.

To make the salt crust, I whipped (by hand, with a whisk – for no real reason other than I felt like the workout!) two egg whites to soft peaks, then mixed them through the salt. I actually only used two kilograms of salt in the end (leaving me with a few spare bags) – it just seemed crazy to be using 4kgs. I used half the salt mixture to line the bottom of a baking tray and then I sat my two whole Rainbow Trout (a very pretty fish, reminding me of my childhood) on the salt base. They were stuffed with rosemary and thyme and rubbed with oil.

Then I poured the rest of the salt mixture over the top, leaving the tails exposed, but making sure that every other part of the fish was covered, so that nothing could escape.

Then I popped them into a hot oven for 20 minutes.

Then came the interesting part. And obviously I hadn’t really thought this through, because I tried to remove my salt crust with a rubber spatula. Insert incorrect buzzer here. The crust was rock hard. Yes, rock salt mixed with egg whites and baked goes really really hard. Rock hard. Get it?

I’ve since read that the best way to remove the crust is with a saw (or a bread knife, but whatever), but isn’t that just the beauty of hindsight? I hadn’t read that, so I battled with a metal serving spoon, trying not to butcher the perfectly tender and juicy fish beneath the surface. Finally I got my first chunk off and that made it a little easier to remove the rest of it in chunks, eventually exposing the fish.

Once I had the fish out of there and on the plate, I peeled the skin off too. Apparently the skin protects the flesh from the salt, so the skin itself is incredibly salty.

So there we were, me & Ash, in awe of these beautiful fish. Pink, oily, tender flesh. Born out of rocky white cocoon. It was absolutely delicious. Served with my favourite fennel, pea and parsley salad. Yum!

I’ll put it out there and say the MasterChef judges would have been impressed. I’m sure of it. Least I hope Gary would be. I love Gary.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Life is full of surprises. Even at the fish shop.

I swear, I never thought I would say this, but yesterday when I went to the fish shop, the FSL was actually nice and even more shocking, she was helpful!

Insert gasps of shock here.

Pan-Roasted Bream with a Quick Crispy Fennel Salad

I went asking for bream and I thought on this occasion that I might have some success in actually getting the fish that I set out to buy, but alas no. The FSL said she didn’t have fillets of bream.

Now normally, that would be the end of the conversation, but to my surprise, she actually offered alternatives and we then got into a conversation about bream and if it was available in Australia (which it is), but that they didn’t have any today (because it wasn’t up for auction at the markets that day), that it is quite a tasty fish (and also comes in different colours and sizes) and that snapper, barramundi or blue eye cod would be the best substitutes. So then we talked about how I was cooking it and she said I should go with the snapper. Can you imagine? A helpful FSL. Of course, I am a week out from the end of the experiment, which is poetic really…

I scored the skin of the fish fillets and rubbed in dried chilli fakes, S&P, crushed fennel seeds and olive oil. Then I pan fried them on medium heat for five minutes skin side down and another four minutes the other side.

Served up with a salad of finely sliced fennel, marjoram leaves, lemon juice, oil and balsamic vinegar.

Mum loved it and also commented afterwards, when checking out the book, that the salad looked exactly like the picture.

I know it’s sad and I promise that I am taking more away from what I’ve done than this, but I still get a real kick out of the meals that most closely resemble the photos in the book. It just feels good when they look like the picture. Such a kid.


PS – marjoram is quite a weird herb and even though I’ve used fresh marjoram quite a bit during the experiment (Jamie loves it – apparently it’s a fave with Italians), tonight was the first time I really noticed the flavour. And it tasted like washing up detergent. But not in a bad way. Weird.

Ducks crossing here.

I’m done with duck. Or am I?

Perfectly Cooked Crispy Duck with Spiced Plum Chutney

Last night I cooked the last duck recipe in Jamie (and would you believe that all nine remaining recipes, bar one, are fish or seafood. How did I let this happen? So much for planning!). It was a duck dinner for Caro’s birthday.

Firstly I made some sage salt – sage leaves and salt smashed together in the pestle and mortar. Then I rubbed that all over the duck and stuffed it with four quarters of an orange.

I sat the duck, breast down, on a bed of roughly chopped vegies – carrots, onion, celery & smashed garlic cloves – then popped it in a moderate oven for 2 hours, turning after an hour, so the skin crisped up on both sides.

Meanwhile, I reheated the chutney which I’d made the night before. The chutney has a story. Plums are a Summer fruit. Slight problem in the middle of Winter. No drama. Use tinned plums. Except I forgot to buy tinned plums. Thinking on my feet. I have some homemade plum chutney in my fridge! So I followed the first part of Jamie’s recipe & brought sugar and water to the boil, added cinnamon and a star anise, some orange rind and the jar of chutney. I let it simmer down and infuse with the star anise, then reheated on the night.

The duck came out of the oven to some very excited oohs and aahs. Dad carved it up and we served it with Scotch Stovies (, peas and the plum chutney.

So look, I’ll be straight with you. You know how I feel about duck. Not a fan. And yet, here I am, after two duck dinners in a week and I am beginning to think that maybe I do like duck.


So I’m going to make a promise. Once I’m done with my experiment with Jamie, I am going to eat duck again. It might not be straight away (that spot is reserved for classic that I’ve been longing for, like spaghetti Bolognese, beef stroganoff and a simple curry), but it will happen and I will be very interested in the verdict. Right now, I am stuck on duck and need to get off the fence.


Monday, May 31, 2010

A sad farewell to giant beasts. I mean feasts.

I’m filled with mixed emotions at the moment. It’s all coming to an end. On the weekend I went to the farm with Marcus and Mel and the girls again. And I cooked a Jamie feast again. But that’s it. There will be no more giant farm feasts from Jamie. Which makes a little bit sad, but also makes me leap with joy that I can finally get back to farm tradition and cook spag bol. Bog rolls. Mmmmmmmm…

Ultimate Rib of Beef with Rosemary & Garlic Roast Potatoes

And so it was that I cooked meet and potatoes. Again.

Mel had kindly accepted my shopping list and gone to the butcher for me, requesting a rib of beef to be cut into chops/steaks. We had seven adults and five kids, so it was a pretty giant bag of beef that I pulled from the fridge on Saturday and then I got to work.

I marinated the steaks with smashed up garlic cloves, lemon zest, rosemary and olive oil and left it to sit for an hour.

Mel and I had a small production line going for the potatoes – Mel peeled, sipped wine, handed to me, I chopped into cubes, sipped wine and put into a pot of salted water. Easy.

Once the water with the potatoes in it came to the boil, I transferred the tayties into a baking dish that I’d heated over the stove with some duck fat (left over from the duck earlier in the week – clever huh? Forward thinking – yeah!) and tossed them with smashed garlic cloves, rosemary and S&P. They then went into the oven for about 30 minutes or basically until they were crispy and we were ready to eat.

Then I heated oil in a big and very hot pan and quickly pan fried the beef on either side, just to seal it, then popped them all into the oven for 25 minutes.

So we each had a giant piece of beef, with some very fatty and delicious potatoes and then a very healthy salad of rocket, pear and parmesan on the side. Ah lovely.

It all went down a treat, as usual. They are an eager and easy to please crowd those Wests and friends. And I love cooking in the kitchen at the farm coz it’s big and accessible.

No, I’ve decided, it’s going to have to be spag bol AND giant feasts at the farm from now on.


PS – would you believe I have only TEN recipes to go!
PPS – yes, correct. That means I will finish next week.
PPPS – which means I will finish exactly 2 months early!
PPPPS – eat your heart Julie Powell – you took a full year!!!
PPPPPS – I know I know, her cookbook was about 3 times the length of mine, but who’s caring!
PPPPPPS – sad but excited. Mostly excited though!!!