Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pork Tenderloin with Fancy Brussel Sprouts and a Mustard Lemon Cream

Is that a brussel sprout I see?
I am a changed man.  Unshackled and free.  A weekly shop is no longer confined to a list for me.  Armed with technique and knowledge I am able to scour the aisles for the best deals and ensure that my trolley always has what is fresh and what is cheap.

Liberation personified.  I pass people looking at their lists.  Wondering what to do because their favorite type of just add meat flavor sachet is not available.  I don't judge them though.  Once upon a time that was me.  It is only if you have been imprisoned that you can really appreciate being free.

Tonight's meal was put together with a selection of cheap items from the local Tallyup.  There are quite a few deals about for cheap pork at the moment.  Having eaten quite a bit of loin recently I went for a different cut.  The tenderloin.  It is a very lean meat and thus you must be careful when cooking.  If you take it too far it will be very dry.  However when cooked perfectly it can be a very enjoyable cut.

I somehow lost my mind and decided that love will conquer all, including my deep seeded fear of brussel sprouts.  Some people love them, my wife included.  Some hate them, myself included!  I distinctly remember trying anything I could as a child to hide brussel sprouts at the dinner table.  Not having a dog made it a pretty difficult task!  In fact, would a dog even eat them?!

Everything tastes better with bacon right?
The look, the taste, the smell.  They seemed like little green orbs of punishment.  Dealt out as penance for our childly sins.   To make matters worse Parents would always exclaim how gorgeous they were.  Making you believe that you would never grow up to be like them!

It so happens that the terrible smell is a result of overcooking.  If your partner asks what the stink is, from the other end of the house, chances are you've boiled them too long.

So to get through this self inflicted brussel sprout punishment we're going to have to glam up the debatable vegetable.  What better way to spruce them up with my favorite slow cooked shallots and some crispy bacon?  To make me feel even better I decided to lather it all in a creamy mustard sauce.  If the sauce is good enough I should be able to eat cardboard and enjoy it!  If that isn't encouragement enough then surely the fact that the hottest couple on the planet right now are romantically entwined with brussel sprouts should be reason enough to give them a go?  No?

Pork Tenderloin with Fancy Brussel Sprouts and a Mustard Lemon Cream

Serves 2
Prep Time 15 min
Cooking Time 40 min


3 x 100g Pork Tenderloin Pieces
200g Brussel Sprouts
300g Agria Potatoes
3 strips Streaky Bacon
4 Shallots, sliced
1/4 cup wine
1/4 cup cream
1 tsp Dijon Mustard
2 tsp lemon juice.
Fresh thyme.
Olive Oil.

Your weapons for this evening

1.  Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.
2.  Prep your meat by removing any fat or silvery bits.  You want each piece to be approx the same thickness.
 or until cooked through.
4.  Prep the brussel sprouts by chopping off the end, removing any tough outer leaves and then cutting a cross into the bottom.  This will allow them to cook and also to release some of their bitterness.  Place the brussel sprouts into rapidly boiling water and cook for 6 minutes.  Drain and then place them into an ice bath to refresh them.  This will also ensure they keep their vibrant green color.  Once they are cool drain again and leave to one side.
5.  In a small oven proof frying pan, with a small dash of oil, cook your bacon until crispy.  About five minutes on a medium heat.  Remove and place on paper towels.
6.  Season your pork and then place in the same pan, turning the heat up to high.  Cook for 1 minute on all sides to get a golden color.  Then place the pork, in the oven proof pan, into the oven for between 6-8 minutes.
7.  When cooked remove from the pan and put to one side, covered with foil.  Please do not burn your hands as I always seem to do by grabbing the pan's hot handle!  Rest the meat for about 5 minutes to allow the juices to go back into the meat.  
8.  While the meat is resting add the wine to the meat pan and place on a high heat.  Scrape off all the bits of meat residue from the bottom of the pan.  This is called deglazing.  Reduce by 2/3.
9.  While you are waiting take another pan, place on a low heat, add 1 Tbsp Butter and 1Tbsp Olive Oil then add the diced shallots.  Cook for a few minutes until translucent then add the brussel sprouts.  Saute in the butter and Olive oil for about 5 minutes.  Chop your crispy bacon and add to the pan.  Remove from the heat.
10.  Once the wine has reduced add the cream, thyme leaves and mustard.  Stir to combine and reduce the sauce until it has reached a nice consistency.  Add the lemon juice, then season to taste.
11.  To serve take the rested pork tenderloin pieces and cut them in half.  Combine your roasted potato pieces with the brussel sprout mix then spoon this onto a plate.  Top with the meat and then drizzle over your delicious sauce.

It's a very tasty dish.  It may even convert you to liking brussel sprouts.  No promises though.  Keep the dog at the ready.  Or the cat......if they seem interested.

The cat heard brussel sprouts were on the menu

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Blue Food......

Often heralded as one of the few things on the face of the earth which can stimulate all the senses at the same time food plays on your emotions with colors, aromas, taste and design.  All the colors of the rainbow presented to you on the surface of a plate.  Well, all the colors but blue that is.

No blue food here.  Or is there?
Have you ever seen blue food?  Why is it that despite the enormous diversity of cuisine from around the world, blue food doesn't get a look in anywhere.  Obviously the answer to this is that there aren't a huge amount of blue ingredients in the first place.  Here's a little clip of the great american comedian George Carlin thinking he's onto something:

Despite the fact we humans seem to be evolving faster than an aquarium full of sea monkeys we are essentially simple creatures at heart.  Our ancestors would have seen blue and black berries as danger signs and a warning to stay away.  And perhaps a bit of that fear has stuck with us throughout time.  Nature doesn't produce blue food therefore it doesn't seem natural to eat it.

Studies have shown that blue is actually an appetite supressant.  If you want to make sure you don't come home from a night on the town and stuff your face with cold ham and custard put a blue light in the fridge.  Prevent that want for a second helping by adorning your dining room with a blue lamp.  Your neighbors might start to think you've started a 'second job' though.

The recipe below incorporates one of those not really blue foods.  Blue cheese.  This is a hearty meal that is packed full of flavor.  Something that won't take you long to put together but will provide you with oodles of satisfaction.  I like to make it on stay at home Friday evenings in Autumn when I know I'm gonna want to spend more time on the couch than in the kitchen.

Walnuts and Blue Cheese work really well together.  Toasting the walnuts removes their bitterness but be careful not to burn them.  By the time you can smell them, it is usually too late!

Blue Cheese, Walnut and Bacon Spaghetti

Serves 2.  
Prep Time 10 min.  
Cook time 25 min.

200g Mushrooms, thickly sliced
4 slices streaky bacon
½ onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
75g Blue Cheese
¼ cup cream.
½ cup chicken stock
1/3 cup  roughly chopped walnuts.
150g Spaghetti


1. Turn the oven onto 180 degrees C and put the jug on boil for your pasta water.
2.  Heat a dash of Olive oil on a medium heat in a medium sized pan.  Fry the bacon slices until crispy, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove and place on paper towels.

Bacon is not blue.

4.  Place walnuts on an oven tray and toast in the oven until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
5.  Add the onion to the pan.  Cook for 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms.  Cook for a further five minutes.  6.  Add the garlic, season the mixture and cook for a further minute.  Remove the mixture from the pan.
7.  Place the spaghetti in rapidly boiling salted water (it should taste like sea water) and cook as per packet instructions.
8.  Place the chicken stock in the used frying pan and let it reduce by half.  Add the cream and the diced blue cheese.  Cook, stirring frequently, until the cheese has melted and the sauce has thickened.
9.  Add the spaghetti to the sauce, mix thoroughly.  Slice up your bacon and add to the pasta along with the mushroom mix. Scatter the toasted walnuts over the finished dish and eat moorishly with remote control in hand!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Halloumi with Exciting Lentils

Lentils.  A side dish you will never find in a steakhouse.  Associated with long haired, unwashed vegetarians they have wound up with rather a bad name.  Flavourless, Textureless, and as exciting as watching the latest budget report delivered in sign language.

Not so boring, perhaps?

Of course, like a lot of things in life, the truth is otherwise. A staple diet in Indian and French cuisine well cooked lentils can be a thing of pure bliss.  The recipe below uses the Grand Cru of Lentils.  The puy.  Small, with a dark green tinge, they deliver a nutty flavor and a wonderful texture.  They are also fantastic at absorbing flavor.  You can usually find them in the health food section of the supermarket.

The key to making sure they are right is to keep tasting while cooking.  You will soon notice when the lentil reaches that point of perfection.  If your liquid runs out and they are still too hard, just add more water and let it cook further.  The lentils are dressed with a simple balsamic vinaigrette.  Ensure you add this just after cooking so that the lentils can absorb the flavor.

To make the dish even more exciting why not cover with cheese!  Halloumi to be exact.  Halloumi is starting to get noticed by us Kiwi shoppers.  And for good reason.  Nothing beats a good slice of cheese, except for a good piece of fried cheese!  Halloumi should always be eaten cooked and is best eaten when still warm.  I've used the Over the Moon Garlic Halloumi here.

So get excited.  Get Brave.  Get cooking lentils.

Halloumi with Exciting Lentils

Serves  2
Prep Time 10 min
Cook Time 50 min


1/2 cup puy lentils
1/2 onion, finely diced
1 clove Garlic, finely chopped
1 Tbsp fresh Thyme leaves
1 Bay Leaves
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup water
2 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
4 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
200g Halloumi


1. In a large pan heat 1 Tbsp Oil.  Add the diced onion and cook gently for 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and thyme and bay leaves then cook for a further minute.
2.  Add the lentils.  Stir to combine then add the stock and water.
3.  Bring to a simmer and then cook slowly for approx 30-40 minutes until the lentils have absorbed all the moisture and are tender. Season.
4.  Place the balsamic vinegar in a small mixing bowl then slowly drizzle in the EV Olive Oil while whisking continuously.
5.  Add the vinaigrette to the lentils.  Stir to combine. 
6.  Slice the Halloumi into pieces approximately 3cm thick.  Place into a dry pan on a medium low heat and cook for 3 minutes either side until golden.
7.  Serve the Halloumi on top of the lentils immediately.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Reclaimed Sundays

August the 31st.  I just checked.  That Tuesday was the day when the much mentioned 'rollercoaster' began.

I was at a friends enjoying a night of good food, good people and good times.  Tiddly and wearing a coat of confidence the gentle coaxing of friends finally lead me to complete an application for the second series of Masterchef NZ.

 That was nine months ago now.  It seems even longer.  Why is it that whenever life presents a rather dramatic change the mind quickly seems to accept that it has been like that forever?  Almost like it was waiting for you to catch up.

It's so strange to look back at it all and start to realize what I've put myself through.  Moments of excitement balanced equally with moments of sheer panic.  A lot of soul searching.  A lot of food.

The experience overall was one of amazing self discovery.  Naturally a shy individual I gained so much from being forced into an extended sabbatical outside of my comfort zone.  I can now recount experiences which twelve months ago I would never have dreamed of.  And I owe it all to simply giving it a go.

I find myself now a changed cook. Born a Virgo I have always been marked as a planner.  Fastidious and exact it is part of me that I know as much as I can before I even think to commit.  This is how I cooked.  Shackled by recipes I practiced what I read.  If I couldn't find someone else who had tried it, I wouldn't attempt it myself.  If nothing else this constriction gave me a great understanding of the classics.  Tried and tested recipes were my forte.  However creativity was not.

The Masterchef kitchen does not allow cook books.  It does not have much time for copy cats either.  We were forced to think on our feet and forced to dig deep into whatever knowledge and whatever creativity that we possessed.  Under the pressure of expectation you learned to perform.  The fear of embarrassment in front of of a nation is something worth trying to avoid.  Some of us were successful at that.  Some of us not.

So here I am now sitting in my lounge enjoying my Sunday safe in the knowledge that my knife sharpening skills will not be flashed across the screen this evening.  People often ask what it is like seeing yourself on the TV.  The hardest thing about it is that we don't have the privilege of seeing the show before anyone else.

While we were there when the action happened the power of the editing room can make events seem a little different to how they actually occurred.  Watching yourself do something silly in the knowledge that a good part of the country has just seen it to can be hard to digest and can cause a rather sleepless evening!

After a monumental final last Sunday where the two girls, Jax and Nadia, were put through four grueling tests the winner was finally announced.  Nadia is the new Masterchef of New Zealand.

Both girls did amazingly well throughout the competition and they are both supremely talented individuals, each with their own strengths.  I have no doubt that both are going to go on in this food world to be very successful.  I would buy both of their cook books that's for sure!

Here's a few of the things which really made the show for me.

The highlights of the show:

Living in a Mansion:  I can't say I would spend $10 mill to live there permanently myself but there is a certain satisfaction at having been able to pretend like we were taking part in an episode of MTV cribs.  The bed I was sleeping on was worth $120k alone.  It was quite comfortable.

First walk into the Masterchef Kitchen:  The first time we saw the studio kitchen, which would become our second home, was the 1st Top 12 challenge.  Standing outside we were all like excited, nervous school kids.

Meeting so many great people:  The contestants, the judges, the crew.  There were so many wonderful, happy, food loving people around you 24/7.  After being on the TV it's so nice to have people come up and wish you good luck as well.

The Food:  We dined like kings in that Mansion.  And as we knew how to cook for kings it was amazing!  Simple dinners quickly turned into four course extravaganzas.

Michael 'The Kitchen Ninja' Lee's Asian Impersonation:  It is very, very good.  Surprisingly.

Jax and her pretty pink PJ's:  The only things brighter in the house than Jax's bubbly personality were her PJ's.

Truffles and Bifkin:  It requires a bit of explanation but let's just say we talked a lot about truffles.

The cookbook:  Now released the series 2 cookbook contains recipes from all of top 12 as well as from the judges.  It will be a very surreal experience when I am able to add this special tome to my adored collection of recipe books which take pride of place in my kitchen.

And so now we move onto that next phase of life.  As they say:  This is not end, it is merely the beginning.

If anyone has any questions about the show or is keen to enter the next series and wants some advice feel free to drop me an email.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Doubled over by a Double Down

It's the hot topic of the last week and it's about food.  So I thought I better get involved.  Kiwi's from North to South appear to have been doubled over by KFC's latest marketing strategy aka 'burger'.  And what a campaign it has been.

A double down inspired DOUBLE DOWN.  Cooked by a Masterchef contestant.....i.e ME!

As the great jazz musician Miles Davis said 'It's not the notes you play; it's the notes you don't play.'  So are we to believe that KFC have created a revolution by providing a 'burger' without buns?  Will we soon be eating Big Mac's where two meat patties will be cushioned between another two meat patties?  I'm not sure the amazonian rain forest or the public healthcare system could handle that.

You do however have to dip your hat to the people behind the idea.  Who would have thought removing bread could cause such a stir.  The 'burger' has caused a storm wherever it has been released. Selling more than 10 million units in the US and becoming the fastest selling burger in Canada it has achieved numbers usually reserved for Justin Beiber's latest single.

It's arrival in Australia meant it was too close for us not to sample and aided by a facebook campaign the KFC execs decided to release the burger here.  NZ shook as fat people rejoiced and attempted to high-five each other before deciding that an appreciative nod and a 'Wooha!' was a perfectly acceptable reaction.

Nutritionists across the country were in disgust at the brazen celebration of a self prescribed heart killer.  So vehement were their cries that you would think medical insurance companies would have a new question on their application forms:  How much do you smoke?  How much do you drink?  How many Double Downs have you eaten?

Given blanket media coverage, helped by the free supply of samples to anyone remotely linked to journalism, the hype quickly developed.  People queued before opening.  Some people bought two in case they sold out.  And guess what.  In some locations they actually did sell out!

So with the boys coming over to watch the Warriors on Sunday I thought why not give this double down thing a go?  Masterchef styles of course.  The mission, to consume, critique and then recreate the Double down burger.

The boys arrive and we go through the plan, while consuming a home made mince and cheese pie fresh out of the oven.  You have to warm up the stomach for these types of adventures!  We hit the road and rather excitedly we join an elaborate queue at the KFC drive thru.

Only one car away from service and I see there is a notice on the window.  I jokingly suggest to the boys that they might have run out of double downs.  Ha!  Double Ha!  A fast food restaurant running out of fast food.  That kind of stuff just doesn't happen.  It would be like a gas station running out of petrol, or West Auckland running out of bourbon.

So shock of all horrors.  It was true.  2.03pm.  New Lynn KFC.  No double downs.  We hurriedly offer more cash.  All that we have.  No use.  I even go so far as to place an order of 100.  Surely they will rush some in. No use.  New Lynn is done for double downs.

So unfortunately the plan hit a huge speed bump.  Without the KFC version I had nothing to critique.  Though luckily, with all the publicity, I've got the contents of the burger down pat.  We decided to give it a go anyway.  Two chicken breasts coated in that special crispy batter surrounding melted cheese, bacon, and some kind of sauce.

The sauce is the unknown but I decide to go for something that will make the dish a bit more lively and add a bit of flavor to try and cut through the grease.  A Rouille seems like a good choice.  This is an aioli which also has roasted red capsicum blended into it.

The most important trick to getting this right was to marinade the chicken.  Chicken breast can be lean but when you leave the meat in a buttermilk or yoghurt marinade overnight it becomes beautifully tender.  I decide to spice up the marinade with garlic, ginger, chicken salt, paprika and a bit of chilli powder.

Once marinated I batter the chicken by dipping in flour, seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika, oregano, onion powder and garlic powder, then placing it in an egg wash before going back into the flour, back into the egg wash and then into Panko breadcrumbs.  Panko breadcrumbs are a bit more chunky than the standard stuff and they provide a great crispy covering for any fried goods.

The chicken then gets shallow fried in a pan with enough oil to come half way up the chicken.  About 4 minutes on either side and the chicken is done.

Chicken shallow fried and ready to be finished in the oven

For the cheese I chose Over the Moon's Double Delight brie.  The name comparison made sense.  For the bacon I chose Henderson's Dry cured bacon.  Smoked over Manuka this bacon has a wonderful strength of smoky flavor that you don't find in other brands.

And so, after about an hour of fiddling about we have a result.  A homemade double down.  I look at what has wound up being a monstrous plate of food.  Do I use a knife and fork?  Never!  Gripped firmly between two hands I proceed to devour.

A very proud creation
 I can't tell you how good the KFC one is.  I couldn't get my hands on one.  But I can tell you that my own version is blooming amazing.  Yes it felt bad.  Yes, as I write this, two days later, I can still feel the 'burger' inside me. Will I make another?  Perhaps.  KFC are only selling the 'burgers' for a limited time so perhaps I can set up a clinic for those who get addicted and need their fix?

If anyone wants the full recipe to try it themselves drop a comment below or send me an email and I'll put it together for you.

Now......what can we do next......that four pattie Big Mac?

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

L'ultimo Lasagna

Some recipes you treasure. Hidden away from prying eyes, these recipes aren't in the roll a dex. Whether it be handed down through the family or one which you have carefully cultivated over years and years of attempts, these recipes are always a bit closer to your heart.

This is one of those recipes for me. When my Mum first got me into cooking it was a Lasanga that she showed me how to make.  Ask a person to name 3 Italian dishes and no doubt Lasagna would be one of them.  Along with Spaghetti Bolognese and Pizza these three dishes have spread the world over and become synonymous with Italian Cuisine.  From the student who every other night calls dinner some canned good upon toast to the 30-something foodie who owns 17 types of Oil, every palette can recognize the taste and every cook will have tried to replicate their own version.

Commonly thought of as the bolognese it is the rich tomato and meat stew actually know as a ragu which forms the base of two of these champions of Italian cuisine.  The sauce gets it's western name from the region of Italy of which it is a specialty, Bologna.

Like an Italian woman a good Ragu gets better with age.  Slow cooking the sauce allows the rich aspects of the dish to come together and will result in a deep flavor that will leave a lovely linger on your tatstebuds and have you crying out for crusty garlic bread and a good chianti

The recipe below has reached it's crescendo.  Altered throughout the years with the addition of this and the subtraction of that it is now at that point where I am happy to pass this down to the next generation as Ant's famous Lasagna.  Should 2012 come true this will be the last supper.

So here it is.  In all it's glory.  L'ultimo Lasagna P.S.  It's a long ingredient list but you'll find you probably have most of the ingredients in the pantry.  It's time consuming.  But it's worth it.

L'Ultimo Lasagna

One BIG pot of slow cooked Ragu.
Serves 6
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cooking time 2.5-4.5 hours


1 250g ball Mozarella sliced as thin as you can or replace with grated mozarella for a cheaper option
12 dried Lasange sheets.

1/2 Onion, skin removed.
1 Bay leaf
1 Sprig Rosemary
6 Peppercorns, lightly crushed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
750ml Milk
50g Butter
3 Tbsp Flour
100g Parmesan Cheese, grated

500g Beef Mince
250g Pork Mince
150g Streaky Bacon, chopped.
2 x 400g cans Chopped Tomatoes (the more Italian the better)
1 tube Tomato Paste (the more Italian the better)
400ml Beef Stock
750ml wine (minus chef's quota)
1 Carrot, Finely Chopped
1 1/2 Onions, Finely Chopped
2 Stalks Celery, Finely Chopped
3 cloves Garlic, Finely Chopped.
1 tsp Sugar
1 Tbsp Worchestshire Sauce
2 Bay Leaves
A few sprigs Thyme
2 Tbsp Dried Oregano.

The Pasta Sauce
  • Heat 2 Tbsp Olive Oil in your largest saucepan on a medium heat
  • Add the bacon and cook for 5 minutes until crisp. 
  • Turn the heat down a bit then add the onion, celery and carrot and sweat gently for a further 10 minutes.

This trio of vegetables is known in French cookery as a Mire Poix and is the start to many savory sauces.  In Italian cooking it is known as the Soffritto.  In Creole cuisine it is called the Holy Trinity.  Bow down to it's savory goodness.
  • Add the garlic and cook for a further 1 minute.
  • Turn the heat up high and add the pork and beef mince.  Break the mince apart with the back of a wooden spoon and brown the mince until all the liqiuid it produces is absorbed.  This will take about 10 minutes.
  • Add ONE WHOLE BOTTLE OF WINE.  Yes, that's right.  A whole bottle.  

    This helps to give the pasta sauce a richness.  If you can't bring yourself to do it then you can add less (400ml if you must).  When choosing the wine go for something quite strong like a shiraz or a cab sav.  There is no need to buy an expensive bottle but don't buy something that you wouldn't drink and was found on special, hidden in the back of a liqour store.

    • Allow the wine to reduce by three quarters.  About 20-30 minutes.
    • Add the remaining ingredients.  Give a good stir and leave to simmer on a very low heat for as long as possible, but anywhere between 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally.  If the mixture gets too dry add more stock.
    • Season with plenty of salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper.
    • Allow the mixture to cool for 20 minutes before compiling the lasagna.
    Once your pasta sauce is bubbling away you can turn your attention to your bechamel.

    The Bechamel Sauce

    One of my favorite things I learned in my Lasagna years was the flavoring of the milk for the bechamel sauce.  It turns an ordinary cheese sauce into something much more interesting, with a fantastic savory characteristic that goes so well with the rich pasta sauce.
    • Rinse a medium sized saucepan under water.  Without drying it add the 750ml milk.  This will help prevent the milk from burning to the pan.
    • Add the onion, bay leaf, peppercorns, rosemary and garlic to the milk.
    • Place the milk on a low heat, warming it gently, stirring every now and then until just before it boils.  Take off the heat, place a lid on the saucepan and then leave to infuse until your pasta sauce is off the heat.
    Once the pasta sauce is cooling you can start to put together the bechamel.
    • Gently reheat the milk.
    • Strain the milk into a pouring jug. 
    • In a separate saucepan add the butter and melt on a low heat. 
    • Once melted add the flour.  Stir to mix.  Let it bubble away for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. 
    • Add about 1/4 cup of milk and Combine well.  When all the milk has been absorbed, add a little more.
    • Continue to do this until all the milk has been added, whisking continually. 
    The art to a smooth bechamel is all in how you add the milk, ensuring you use as much elbow grease as you can muster to ensure that the milk is fully incorporated, with the mix resembles a smooth paste, before adding any more. 
    • Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, stirring regularly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of a spoon.
    • Take off the heat add the parmesan  cheese.  Mix until it is melted.
    • Season with salt and pepper.

    Putting it all together 
    • Cook Pasta sheets as per packet insturctions. Drain.
    • Make a layer of pasta sheets in the bottom of a greased 20x28cm oven proof dish. 
    • Add 1/3 of the ragu then 1/4 of the bechamel.  Top with 1/3 of the Mozzarella Repeat twice. 
    • For the top layer lay out the pasta sheets then cover with the remaining bechamel.  Sprinkle a little extra grated cheese on top.
    • Cook for 30-40 minutes until the top layer is golden.
    • Allow it to rest for 10-15 minutes when out of the oven to help the layers stay together when cutting.
    Served with a light salad.  You can't get better!

      Friday, May 6, 2011

      Have your cake, and eat it too.

      What a week eh?  Tornados in the North Shore.  Osasma bin Laden captured, shot and thrown to sea.  It's been a little less dramatic in my kitchen this week.  Although after a full on cooking session you could be forgiven for assuming the place had been victim to a tornado or a terrorist attack!  Sorry Kelly!

      Saturday morning sees me out and about catching up with Vicki Davison, a fellow contestant on Masterchef.  Vicki was one of the top 25 contestants who was culled in the battle of the BBQ during episode 2 of the series.

      We are meeting for breakfast at Hardware Cafe in Titirangi.  A place which gets very good reviews for it's coffee. In fact judging by the queue half of West Auckland is coming here for it's early morning caffiene fix.  The coffee is good.  I quickly devour one Mochacino and request another.  Risky for 9am on a Saturday.  Better go easy on the car ride h h h home.

      Vicki is of course keen to hear the inside word on life in the Masterchef house.  Being in the end stages of the show it is now quite easy to talk about our experience as you don't find yourself constantly having to second guess your words as you worry if you are giving hints towards the outcome of each episode.

      Since her participation in the show Vicki has been a busy lady.  A mother of two young daughters life is already busy enough, but not content with that she has managed to start up her own Cake making business as well.

      Aptly named Victory cakes it seems that her participation in the Masterchef series was just the impetus required to give Vicki the confidence to start up a business out of an activity which before the show was merely a hobby.

      During downtime on the show Vicki had shown a few of the contestants and the staff some of the cakes she had created for her children's birthday parties.  These weren't any ordinary creations though.  Fantastically creative and wonderfully decorated they were as good as anything you'd see for sale.  After so many positive comments from those in the know it seemed sensible to make something of it.

      If you are needing a cake for any type of celebration and are looking for something a bit more special than a Pak'N'Save chocolate cake then you can get in touch with Vicki here.  Below are a couple of examples of her work:

      A Royal cake for the recent nuptials
      Teddy Bear Cake!

      A classic look for a Wedding Cake

      I, alas, have never been much of a baker.  The idea of a man spending half his time in the kitchen is effeminate enough.  Baking pretty cakes with fancy icing just seemed a step too far.  However in the name of charity it seems I am obliged to don a pinny and get covered in some flour.  My wife's local playgroup are having a baking competition to raise money for the Japan Earthquake and I have been charged with providing some Masterchef quality baking.  No pressure.  I'll let you know how I get on.  Perhaps I might have to call on Vicki to rescue me!

      I've got a couple of really nice recipes coming up in the next week for you.  In honor of Mother's across the country I'm going to divulge my recipe for Lasagna.  The first dish my Mum ever taught me, and the dish that I have tweaked the most in my 22 years of cooking.

      I'm also going to attempt the wonderful Spanish version of French Toast, Torrijas, which I haven't been able to stop thinking about since trying at Serafin Tapas Bar the other week.

      Have a good weekend all, and be kind to your Mum's tomorrow.  They deserve it.

      Tuesday, May 3, 2011

      The way to a woman's heart - Chilli and Garlic Prawn Spaghetti

      During the Masterchef process we had a few media obligations that we had to fulfill.  Women's magazines, Newspapers and radio stations asking you typical questions about who inspired you to cook, and what is your favorite meal.

      One of the common questions was what do you cook your wife when you want to butter her up.  Well my wife and I have been together for 11 and a half years now.  During that time she has seen me develop from someone who liked to cook to someone who is all out obsessed with food.

      So it's fair to say that I've also attempted to put together a few fancy dinners for her to celebrate birthdays or anniversaries or to make up for my misgivings that all us men seem to carry with us no matter how hard we try.  It's also fair to say that she has had to consume a few disasters as I work out a new technique or practice cooking my saltless curries.

      Now despite the creation of some magnificent multiple course food adventures for which I gave up my creative heart and soul it turns out that a much simpler, more basic meal has become the go to, time to please the Wife, dish.  I'm still trying to work out if it's because it's tasty or because it only uses a few dishes though!!

      For the prawns try to buy the ones already shelled.  It doesn't matter if they're frozen or not.  The quality will probably be the same.  Most prawns available are thawed from frozen when you purchase them in any case.

      Adjust the amount of chilli to your taste.  A good way to test how hot your chilli's are is to cut the top of the chilli off and lightly press the flesh of the chilli against your lip.  The more the tingle the hotter it is.

      Chop your garlic about fifteen minutes before you intend to use it. This allows the oils and enzymes in the garlic to activate providing you with more flavor and more health benefits!

      Chilli and Garlic Prawn Spaghetti

      Simple food cooked well = Satisfaction

      Serves 2
      Prep Time 15 Minutes
      Cook Time 15 Minutes


      3 Cloves garlic chopped finely
      1-2 Red Chilli chopped finely
      1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil + 1 Tbsp
      200g thawed Prawns
      200g Spaghetti
      Handful of Parsley
      Lemon to serve


      • Shell the prawns if required.  Place in a colander and rinse under cold running water.  Place on some paper towels and pat dry
      • Marinate the prawns in 1 Tbsp Olive oil combined with 1/3 of the garlic and chilli for 30 minutes.
      • Boil the jug for your pasta water.  Use a big a pot as you can.  Pasta needs space to cook properly.  Ideally you want to be able to place 3 litres of water into the pot.  Make sure the water is at a rolling boil THEN add the salt (it takes longer to boil if you add salt first).  You need to add a lot of salt.  The water should taste like seawater.  I use at least 1tsp for every 1L of water.
      • Once the water has returned to a rolling boil cook your pasta as per packet instructions.
      • Place the 1/4 cup EV Olive oil in a heavy based frying pan and put onto a low heat.  Add the remaining chilli and garlic.  Cook very very slowly for around 8-10 minutes.  The idea is to gently cook the chilli and garlic while infusing the flavor into the oil at the same time.  You do not want your garlic to go brown as it will become bitter.

      Gently simmering Chilli and Garlic
      • Drain the Pasta and place back into the pot.  Add the Infused oil, garlic and chilli.
      • Place the frying pan back onto a high heat.  Season your prawns with salt and pepper then add to the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes turning once until the prawns are crisp but tender.  Try one if you have to!  Try two!!
      • At the last minute add the chopped parsley. Stir to combine.
      • Add the cooked prawns to your pasta dish.
      • Combine and then serve with a lemon wedge for those that like things with a bit of tang.  

      It works really well with Seifred's 2010 Sauvingon Blanc.  I can't promise it will get you extra favors with the loved one, but I can promise you that it is quick and easy, and it tastes good!

      What meal do you cook when you want to show that special someone that you care?