Monday, October 31, 2011

Asparagus Hollandaise Risotto

It's a secret obsession of any blogger to be the first one to try something out.  It's never as much fun writing creeds of cookery when you know that every one of New Zealand's food blogs have already done the same post as you.  With every second person who has elevated themselves from takeaway pizza and a Sunday roast now writing a food blog it can be hard to be original.

So it is that I proudly declare some originality.  I have not been able to find the following words in this order on google.  Asparagus, Hollandaise, Risotto.

 Maybe there's a reason for that.  Maybe others have thought this one through, then produced curdled sickly results which could never be mentioned again.  Maybe others have thought there is no reason to tarnish a perfectly simple dish with one extra added flavor. Maybe others are considering their waists and refuse to indulge their midweek risotto in a little bit of naughtiness.

And so it is that I am prepared to sacrifice my cooking dignity, my waistline, and my tastebuds to this experiment.  In truth I only have the last of that trio in tact so there's not much to lose.

The inspiration came from the new season Asparagus which most foodies are very partial too.  The kind of delight that vegetable purists would say to leave alone.  Season it and then grace it with a bit of butter.  That's it.  I am very fond of 'naked' Asparagus, however it isn't that substantial is it?

I needed something to fill it out and my mind could not get away from Hollandaise sauce.  If you've never made your own Hollandaise you really must give it a go.  After a few attempts you'll have it down pat and it's one of those sauces that just can't be replicated by any of the bottled varieties.  Silky and buttery with just a little hint of tang a good Hollandaise will envelop and ooze over whatever it adorns.

The most alarming aspect of attempting this yourself will be that you will now know the contents of that delicious sauce you've been having over your eggs every time you head to the local cafe.  It's hard to feel guilt free when the evidence is right in front of you.

It has a reputation of being temperamental.  Seizing or curdling without warning.  And that's where the practice comes in.  Take things slow and you'll soon get the feel for it.  The trick is to ensure that the clarified butter is whisked in bit by bit, waiting for the last lot to emulsify, before adding any more.

As an experienced sauce man I can knock out a Hollandaise in around 15 minutes but you should give yourself twice that if you're new to the technique.

Now this recipe comes in two parts.  The sauce, and the Risotto.  Each has it's uses on it's own.  You can prepare the Hollandaise first and put to one side while you then get stuck into the Risotto.

Asparagus, Hollandaise Risotto

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 60 minutes
Serves: 4-6

Hollandaise Sauce

1 Tbsp white wine vinegar
1 Tbsp water
4 lightly crushed whole peppercorns
2 egg yolks
120g unsalted butter, clarified.
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice.
pinch of cayenne pepper.

  1. To clarify the butter cut into small cubes and then put into a saucepan.  Heat gently until the milk solids (white, frothy bits) start to separate from the fat (clear yellow liquid).  Carefully pour the clear liquid into a pouring jug and put to one side. 
  2. In a small saucepan place the vinegar, water, and peppercorns and put on a low heat.  Bring to the boil, it will only take a minute.  Reduce the volume by half.
  3. Remove from the heat, strain the liquid into a heatproof glass bowl and then leave to cool.
  4. Add the egg yolks to the liquid and whisk together.
  5. Place the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water where the base of the bowl is just above, but not touching, the water.  Whisk the mixture for 5-6 minutes until it thickens and s ribbon-like, creamy, and smooth in texture.
  6. Take the bowl off the heat and then place on a folded tea towel, which will prevent it moving.  You are going to need your hands for other things!  Slowly add the clarified butter pouring it into the mixture in a thin stream and whisking until the sauce is thick and glossy.  This is the part to take extra care with!  I would only add a Tbsp at a time to start so you can see the actual change that occurs as you mix in the butter.  Once you're confident you can start to add more at a time.
  7. Next is the seasoning.  Lemon juice, salt, a dash of cayenne pepper and some white pepper.  Taste and adjust, taste and adjust.  If you get it just right it should give you shivers down the spine!

The Risotto

600 ml Chicken/Vege Stock
1/4 cup wine
100g Aborio Rice
1/2 onion choped finely
2 Tbsp Butter
1 Tbsp Olive Oil
1 bunch Asparagus
1/2 cup frozen peas

  1. Place the stock in a medium saucepan and put onto a medium heat.  You want the stock to be simmering, but not boiling for when you add it to the risotto.
  2. Melt the butter and the olive oil in a larger saucepan.  Add the onion and gently sweat for a few minutes on a medium heat.  Add the aborio rice and cook for a further 2-3 minutes.  You want to toast the rice in the oil.  It should start to go opaque.  Add the wine and let it cook off.
  3. Add the stock 1/3 cup at a time, stirring frequently until the stock has absorbed and then repeating that process until the rice is al dente  This should take about 20 minutes.  Remove the Risotto from the heat.
  4. Cut the woody ends off your Asparagus and peel off any woody nodules.  Place the Asparagus and the frozen peas into a saucepan of boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes until the Asparagus are tender but still have some bite.
  5. Drain then combine the vegetables with the Risotto.  Add half the Hollandaise to the Risotto and mix together.  Serve the Risotto and then finish by spooning over some more of the Hollandaise.
  6. The result is extraordinarily decadent.  So much so that in future I might limit myself to starter portions!  The above would make about 6 smaller portions which would go down a treat.  Just make sure you don't have anyone on a diet coming round!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Perfect Cracker?

So Masterchef Australia is nearing finals week!  And TVNZ have kicked out the institution that is Coronation St to make way for it.  It goes to show what a great program the Australian version of the cooking franchise is.  Without doubt it sets the benchmark for being a true amateur-come-professional reality cookery program.

The way the Australian judges, and their guests, mentor the contestants from keen enthusiasts into all consuming chef extraordinaires is truly a sight to behold, and to be honest, something I am extremely jealous of!  Especially when guest chefs such as Heston Blumenthal and Thomas Keller show up!

It's going to be really interesting to catch the last few weeks and see who comes out on top.  I couldn't really pick it from here.  I think Michael is probably the most all round talented contestant left. Dani and Ellie would have had huge odds on being champ at the start of the show but they've come so far they could now go all the way!

Of course there's a lot of interest in who might win another competition which is going on at the moment.  Namely the Rugby World Cup.  Weekends are turning into very social affairs with friends and family coming around to share in the joy/commiseration of our respective teams triumphs and tribulations in the cup.

I have complete faith in the All Blacks.  Complete non wavering faith.  The same faith I had in 2007.  And 2003. get the picture.  Tonight sees them take on their bogey team and everyone has written off the French.  In my eyes we've got a better chance than ever to take the cup but it's one game of rugby, and there can always be two winners in any game of rugby.

Of course having guests around all the time means feeding them too.  Hence there seems to have been a constant supply of cheese and crackers and chips and dips.

My new favorite thing.  A cracking cracker.

Recently my Aunty bought round some 180 degrees Walnut, Oat Crackers and I haven't been able to get enough of them since.  If you're looking for the perfect cracker to highlight a tasty cheese then these are the ones.  Buttery and crunchy with just a hint of walnut flavor they are the perfect base for a creamy Camembert or a bold blue.  If you want a real moment get some Kikorangi blue and a late harvest reisling, lock the door, turn the phone off and put some Rick Stein on.  Bliss.

Having watched a Rick Stein marathon I had run out of cheese and needed to search the fridge for something else to add to my favorite new found flavor platform.

Smoked Salmon and Watercress Crackers

Watercress Oil
2 Tbsp Lemon Juice
Handful of Watercress Chopped Finely
3 Tbsp EV Olive Oil
1/4 tsp Dijon Mustard
1/4 tsp Honey

180 Degrees Walnut Oat Crackers
Smoked Salmon
Kiwi Onion Dip or substitute with creme fraiche, sour cream or another dip.

In a mortar and pestle whisk together the honey, mustard and lemon juice.  Add the watercress and pound it together, extracting all the flavor.  Slowly whisk in the EV Olive Oil and then season to taste.

Cut your smoked salmon into pieces about 3 x 8 cm.

Place the salmon on top of the cracker then put a dollop of dip, creme fraiche or sour cream in the middle of the salmon.  You could ever attempt a quenelle if you're being fancy!

Wrap the salmon round the dip and then top with a drizzle of watercress.

Sit back, scoff happily and cheer on the All Blacks.  Tomorrow is going to be a long way away.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Pumpkin, Spinach and Ricotta Open Lasagna with Sage and Butter sauce...

Are vegetarians wealthy?  They don't buy meat, which is always the most expensive thing on my shopping list.  They probably don't buy leather, meaning expensive clothes and cars are out.  They probably grow a lot of their own food.  I imagine they don't eat out much as well due to the limitations forced on them by carnivorous chefs.  Am I being a bit too sterotypical?  Should I stop talking about them like a mythical creature?

Apparently only 3% of the western world is Vegetarian.  So in the interests of being representive of society at least 3 in every 100 posts on this blog must be Vegetarian!

The V word is one that can scare some.  I've never understood why.  I'm as big a meat eater as the next person but I also follow the philosophy that if it tastes good it should be celebrated.  I celebrate often.

Besides, sometimes you get that lethargic 'I've consumed too many carcasses for one week' feeling and a good shot of vegetables is just what is needed!

The below dish is one which wouldn't really fall into the healthy section, although it certainly fits into the tasty one!  Sweet pumpkin mash, caramalized onions, iron rich spinach and creamy ricotta are layered between fresh pasta sheets and then topped with a sage and pine nut butter to make a delicious offering that will persuade at least 3 in every 100 people to let Bambi live another week.

Pumpkin, Spinach and Ricotta Open Lasagna with a Sage and Pine Nut Butter sauce

Serves 2
Prep and Cook Time: 60 minutes

This dish involves getting all the components together and then putting it together at the end.  Try to get your timings right to ensure everything is still warm.

1kg Pumpkin
30g Butter
Fresh Pasta Sheets
3/4 cup Ricotta
1/4 cup Pine Nuts
A few Sage leaves ( I used 10 small ones)
1/2 Red Onion
1 Tbsp Brown Sugar
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
Olive Oil
Parmesan shavings
Crispy sage leaves (whole leaves cooked for 10 seconds in hot oil) [optional]
  • Turn your oven onto about 200 degrees C.
  • Skin and De-seed your pumpkin then chop into chunks about 4x4cm.  Cover in 2 Tbsp Olive oil and season then place in an oven tray lined with baking paper.  Chuck in the oven and cook for about 40 minutes, turning once.
  • While that's cooking cut the onion into slices and put in a cold pan with 1tbsp Olive Oil.  Cook on a low heat for 15 minutes, stirring often so it doesn't color too much.  Mix in the balsamic vinegar and brown sugar, season, and then cook for a further 5 minutes.
  • Using either a ramekin dish or pastry rings about 9cm wide cut 8 circles of pasta out of the sheets.

  • Place the pine nuts in a small roasting dish and roast until nice and toasted.  Be careful not to burn them.  It should take only 2-4 minutes.
  • Cook the spinach as per packet instructions.  I used frozen spinach but fresh works even better.  Ensure that you let the spinach drain and squeeze out that extra moisture.
  • Remove the cooked pumpkin from the oven and place into a medium sized saucepan.  Mash magnificently.  Add a small knob of the butter and 1/4 cup of the ricotta.  Place on a low heat stirring constantly until the mash is smooth and thick. Mix in half of the pine nuts to give some texture to the dish.
  • Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan then add the chopped sage leaves  Cook on a medium heat until the butter lets off a wonderful nutty aroma and goes slightly brown.  Add the remaining pine nuts and remove from the heat.

  • At the last minute cook your pasta.  As it's fresh pasta it will only take between 3-4 minutes.  Cook the rounds in plenty of boiling salted water.  When al dente drain the pasta well.
  • Construct!!! This is where all the parts become one.  Do with finesse if you have guests.  Do quickly if you are hungry.  Layer your cooked concoctions in this order.  Pasta, Pumpkin, Caramalized Onions, Pasta, Spinach, Ricotta, Pasta, Pumpkin, Pasta.  Top with a bit of the Caramalized Onion, some shavings of parmesan and some crispy sage leaves.  Drizzle the sage and pine nut butter over the lasagna and around the plate.

And after all that the only thing left to do will be to ring your local butcher and tell him why you aren't coming round so often anymore.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Number 5 is alive!! - Restaurant Review

Number 5
5 City Rd (behind the Langham)
Auckland City

Ph: 09 309 9273


I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling frustrated by the sudden influx of group buying sites infiltrating the market.  Frustrating they are because they promise to deliver you something cheap.  The bargain hunter in me cannot ignore the potential opportunity to pick up a bargain.

Signed up to nigh on nine million emails a day it seems I am forever deleting promises of amazing deals, days after they've even expired.

However, every now and then a golden nugget comes along.  A reputable business with a name you can trust offering a true deal which cannot be missed.  Such it was with Number 5 restaurant in City Rd.  The deal was 2 for 1 on the $99, five course, degustation menu.

Number 5 was appealing in two ways.  Firstly it has a reputation as being a provider of fine food in an elegant setting.  Secondly it's name is shared by my favorite of movie characters.  Yes I am a big kid at heart and any reference to the Short Circuit movies has me weak at the knees:

We excitedly booked ourselves in for a Tuesday night.  5 course Tuesday?  Yep.  A bit wild.  No Shortland St this evening!

We were welcomed into a quiet dining room by the lovely waiting staff.  It's a really inviting space to dine.  Intimately sized but not too crowded.  An ornate fireplace and chandeliers combine with well chosen fabrics and colors to make the place feel fancy, but inviting.  There is a sense that they are trying to create a feel of opulence and it does seem a little like the type of place where you may have to question which fork to use.  However the friendly staff counter this with their warm persona.

We're quickly shown through the five course menu and my mouth is watering.  I feel like I'm going to have to make excuses when we pull out our 2 for 1 voucher because it truly is a bargain.


Matching wines are available for $55 extra per person and as the restaurant is quite noted for it's wine list it is definitely worth considering that extra embellishment.  However as we're both driving home we decide to go with just a couple of the recommendations.

As it's a school night we quickly tuck in and the first course arrives.  The flavors are adequate and I'm quickly asking for some bread to sop up the bisque.  The tempura batter is more like a beer batter although I think the dish is better for it.  It's matched wonderfully with the 36 bottles Central Otago Pinot Gris.  A quite strong drop that shows that NZ Pinot Gris does not have to always be the light bodied variety.

Following this is the venison loin tartare.  It's topped with a raw egg yolk.  A hen's yolk to be as precise as the menu.  Sometimes clarification can go overboard but I am thrilled they've chosen the hen's yolk as opposed to....?  It's perfectly seasoned with juniper salt and capers and served with crispy toast.  It's yum. Perfectly seasoned to highlight the beautifully tender venison.  It is fresh and invigorating.  Again it is wonderfully paired with a very fruity Pinot Noir.

Our third 'course' is a limoncello sorbet.  Not so much a course as a menu filler, however they could give me a tub of the stuff to take home if they like!  It possessed a beautiful balance of tart and sweet.

By this time the fact it was Tuesday was starting to hit home.  We're going to have a full belly after this lot!

Fourth course was one I was very much looking forward to.  Seared duck breast and confit leg served on a fricassee of broad beans and peas with potato fondant.  It screamed French Bistro and is the type of food I love to cook.  The duck was cooked well, with the confit leg shredded and incorporated into the fricassee.  As it happens the potato fondant was cut so small that its flavor got lost in the fricassee and it became merely a texture.  It was a well constructed dish however it needed maybe one extra flavor or one extra piece of wow to bring it up to fine dining standards.

Our we can't eat anymore but we will dish was the dessert.  Raspberry Chocolate Fondant served with Raspberry Ripple ice cream and a chocolate chip tuille.  It's one of those moments of undeniable dining room joy when you slice through a hot chocolate fondant to see a slowly exuding richness of goo flowing onto the plate.  And this dish didn't disappoint.  It became a pleasurable pain as we paused for minutes between each mouthful hoping our tummies would work overtime to make a little extra space for another go at the joyful offering.

The chef had managed to infuse the fondant with a fantastic raspberry flavour, yet the texture of the pudding was smooth and delectable.  Not wanting to miss a possible technique I find out from the staff that freeze dried raspberries are ground up into a powder and then incorporated into the fondant batter. 

I briefly encountered freeze dried fruits in the Masterchef kitchen.  You can purchase them from Sous Chef.  Quite pricey for the home kitchen but if you want to give a dinner party dish a real wow factor they're worth considering.

All in all Number 5 was a very pleasurable dining experience.  I really enjoyed the setting and the food.  Three dishes out of the five were standouts.  It seems like a dependable place.  Really good food and a fantastic wine list in a fine dining setting with warm and friendly waiting staff.  What more could you ask for?

Another 2 for 1 voucher perhaps?  Yes Please!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Back with a

Light switch.........on.  I know there is an oven in here somewhere.

There are certain lessons you can only learn with age.  Certain tricks which only Mother Time will divulge to you.  Sometimes when you saturate yourself in something you wind up drowning.

Ever since setting foot in a magical world of make believe cookery my mind became obsessed by food.  A steady flame of intrigue was doused in a petrol of potential as fanciful dreams became real life experiences for me to live and breathe.

And then, like being at the end of a 10 course degustation menu, my stomach and mind could take no more.  Full to the brim with ideas and thoughts about food an uneasy malaise took over as I vacated the kitchen and distanced myself from my frying pan.

Too much of a good thing........

Well as it turns out the above is all rubbish.  So here I am.  Back again to share my love of food.  After spending far too many late nights trying to remember if I poured a 1/4 cup or a 1/2 cup of wine into that sauce, or whether I added any extra seasoning, I decided I needed a break......but it couldn't last.  You can never deny yourself that which you truly love.

The last few months have seen me out and about enjoying the inspiration and creation of others.  Some weeks ago was The Food Show in Auckland.  A veritable mosh pit of foodies bouncing to the rhythm of tiny samples of wine and the Heller's sausage and bacon stand (honestly I've never seen a free food scrum like it!).  It was a day of good food and good wine.  A few of the products I found really excited me and you'll see them in my next few recipes.  Along with much consuming there was also a lot of learning and I managed to catch a few professional prodigy chefs saying a few words too!

Celebrity Chef!
Always cooks with love this one 
More recently was a pleasant surprise from my Wife.  A weekend away to the Coromandel to attend the Whitianga Scallop Festival.  Intended as a celebration of the start of scallop season it wound up as more of a celebration of the local vineyards but was a great trip away. thoroughly enjoyed by the both of us.

Paella for 100 anyone?

Yes Please!!!!

Slipper Lobsters....Like eating little aliens.  Ripley?!?!?

Nothing like putting on a good smile if you need to shift some bird balls 
Another reason to visit the Coromandel.... 

Sandwiched in between was perhaps my most pressured cooking experience since being on the Masterchef show.  Cooking a 3 course meal for my Mum's seventieth birthday with 18 guests.  It was a magnificent occasion and something I was so honored to treat my family to.  Many hadn't even known I had this cooking obsession until they saw me on the show.  Here's the menu I cooked:

Smoked Salmon and Potato Cake Stack.  Poached Quail Egg with Wasabi Mayonnaise and Tomato Chipotle Butter.

Crispy Pork Belly with Parsnip Puree, Braised Fennel, Apple and Fig Compote and a Thyme Jus.

Coconut, Lime and Ginger Cake.  Cardomon Panna Cotta. Bourbon scented Caramalized Mango and A Vanilla, Cardomon Syrup.

My two brothers helped me prep all day and we knocked out every course in a combined and orderly fashion.  Probably the first time you could ever say that if all us siblings were involved!  It really was a true family celebration and something I am still immensely proud of.  Happy Birthday Mum!

Mum has allowed me to share these recipes with anyone else who feels like treating someone special to a fancy meal and these will be on the site shortly.  I also have a review of Number 5 restaurant in the city and a beautiful vegetarian lasagna recipe.  Sometimes when you saturate yourself in something you wind up drowning.

It's good to be back.