Hello foodiecureans! I haven’t been writing recently, not because I’ve been lazy, but I’ve been madly preparing for my first full blown, on-my-own catering job. I had the pleasure of catering for a bunch of professional artists, collectively known as Altitudeart, who, over the past 12 months have made regular field trips to Lake Hindmarsh, 5 hrs North-West of Melbourne, Australia on the dessert fringe. They created a body of work – painting, printmaking, photography, video, sculpture and music – specifically in response to the landscape and environmental changes of the region. For the first time in 16 years the lake has water.
I don’t do things by halves and this job was no exception. My first job entailed catering 3 courses for 100 hungry artist-types and locals who have been starved of decent grub in Japarit for years. Enter foodiecure. To set the scene, the dinner was hosted at the open-only-for-special-occasions historic Hindmarsh Hotel. This amazing building is typical of country towns – the grandest building in the deserted main street.
After an exhausting 5 hr drive we walked into a flurry of activity in the kitchen. The dishwasher was leaking, there was mess everywhere and chaos was in the air. Being boarderline OCD and operating on minimal sleep, it spelt disaster. Thankfully I had two angels with me, Carissa and Terri Ann. After a quick power nap to rejuvenate we hit the kitchen with full force. We cleared the decks, moved a few benches around and got stuck right in. About 3 hours in I could see that my ideal knock off time of 9pm was not going to happen, since we needed to get the Frico cups and risotto made. Who knew it would take almost 5 hours to grate 12kg of cheese?
Second drama was making the risotto in 2 big batches – it just doesn’t work. Well not with the method we were using. During this 8 hour stint from 4pm – 12am panic set in. “Why the hell am I doing this” frequently flashed through my mind. Once things started to pull together and making 100 frico cups was probably the one and only thing that took much less time than anticipated, I allowed myself to feel excited. But it wasn’t the last time I would feel dread. I was on a rollercoaster in a hot, hot kitchen for hours on end amplified by the fact that I had 2 staff working their butts off and I had promised them a good time and a few hours break on the Saturday prior to the event. That was a pipe dream that vanished as quickly as the smoke.
Eventually 6.30pm on Saturday rocked around and before I knew it I was briefing the waiting staff. All wild eyed, I tried my best not to show the stress I was feeling, but luckily for us they were more than fantastic at their job than I dared wished – especially for being inexperienced – and I can’t thank them enough (you know who you are Shannon, Hannah, Patrick and Maz).
As I was preparing the risotto for the entree all I kept thinking was “This is it, in ten minutes 100 people will be eating my food. Shiiiiiiiit!” Anyone who’s ever cooked for a dinner party knows what I’m talking about. I’ve hosted my fair share of dinner parties but when you have 100 potential food critics, my heart is literally on the line!
The next 3 hours wizzed by in a blur and before I knew it, it was desert time. I was too spent to get upset at the Lemon Myrtle Sorbet failure, and having pre-empted disaster, resorted to Plan B. Plan B didn’t work so I quickly devised a Plan C – topping the Chocolate and Beetroot Brownies with Lemon Myrtle Quinelles instead.
It’s a funny thing receiving compliments for your food. It’s the reason I’m in this business, but for some reason I refuse to believe that they’re true. Going off what was relayed to me, my food was well liked. So I guess I better tell you what the full menu was. I’ve also included recipes so you can make it at home.
The whole philosophy of the menu was to stick to the theme, Australian desert. I incorporated colours and flavours and ingredients that reminded me of the desert – not that I’ve ever seen the desert before – and I really really wanted to use Australian native ingredients where possible. Keep this in mind when reading the menu.
Frico Cups with Warrigul Greens Spinach
(Note: I used spinach in the end because I couldn’t source enough Warrigul greens in time)
400g Grana Padano / aged Montasio*
- Pre-heat oven to 180 degrees Celcius
- Divide cheese into 50g piles
- Sprinkle piles of cheese in an even circle on a sheet pan
- Cook in oven until bubbling and golden
- Remove from oven and let it rest for 20 seconds until cool enough to handle, well formed, but not crisp
- Quickly shove the cheese circle into a low shallow condiment dish and let cool for about 5 minutes. It will form a crisp shell that will pop out easily.
* I used locally made parmesan from Mama Lucia
1 Lt vegetable stock
2 Tbls olive oil
2 Tbls butter
1 onion, finely diced
1 stick celery, finely chopped
1 c. aborio rice, rinsed
150 ml dry white wine/vermouth
1 clove garlic, chopped
150 g warrigul greens, washed and dried (subst: Spinach)
Salt and Pepper
- Heat a deep saucepan until medium hot. Melt 1 Tblsp butter and a splash of olive oil, garlic and good pinch of nutmeg
- When melted add the spinach and cook for 5 minutes, moving it around the pan until wilted down.
- Chop finely or whizz in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper
- Bring stock to the simmer in a saucepan
- Put olive oil and the rest of the butter in a separate large pan, add the onion and celery and cook very gently for about 15 minutes, without colouring, until soft.
- Add the rice (it will sizzle) and turn up the heat, without letting the rice or veg catch – so keep it moving
- Quickly pour in the wine and stir continuously until it has evaporated.
- Add the stock 1 ladel at a time, stirring and waiting until it has been fully absorbed before adding the next.
- Turn the heat down to low so the rice doesn’t cook too quickly, otherwise the outside of each grain will be stodgy and the inside hard and nutty. You don’t want it to cook too slow either or it will end up like pudding.
- Continue to add ladelfuls of stock until it has all been absorbed. This should take about 14 – 15 minutes and give you rice that is beginning to soften but still al-dente.
- Turn off the heat and stir in your spinach and beat in the rest of the butter.
- Check for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.
- Put the lid on the pan and let to rest and cool down to room temperature.
Place a cup in the centre of a plate, spoon in a couple of spoonfuls of risotto and sprinkle with sumac on the risotto and around the plate.
Balsamic Marinated Saltbush Lamb with Macadamia Nut Puree, Sweet Potato Curls and Native Mint Oil
1 x 1.5 – 2kg boneless leg of Lamb – I used Baltarra Saltbush Lamb
2 c. balsamic vinegar
Splash of soy sauce
4 minced shallots
1 tsp dry thyme leaves
Salt and Pepper
- In a large container, marinate lamb overnight, stirring at least once
- Drain marinate, but reserve liquid
- Roast covered in 180 degrees Celcisus for approx 1.5 hrs, brushing at least once with marinade
- Uncover and roast a further 30 minutes to crispy up outside
- Remove from oven and let rest for 5 minutes before slicing and serving
Macadamia Nut Puree
200g macadamias – roasted
20 ml sherry vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
30 ml vegetable oil
- Cook the macadamias and garlic in the milk on low heat for 20 minutes
- Transfer to a food processor and add garlic, salt, vinegar and sherry and blitz until very smooth
- With the motor running drizzle in the olive oil in a steady stream
- Pass through a sieve
- Serve at room temperature
Native Mint Oil
Large handful fresh native mint
6 Tblsp Olive oil
- Put the mint into either a pestle and mortar or a blender with a pinch each of salt and sugar, and blitz up until smooth.
- With motor running, slowly drizzle in 6 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Season to taste
- Refrigerate in glass jar for until ready to serve
Sweet Potato Curls
150g sweet potato, julienned very thin
3 Tbls corn flour
- Dust the sweet potato with cornflour and mix well.
- Deep fry until golden brown and dry on kitchen paper
Spread a circle of macadamia puree on the centre of a place. Top with slices of lamb, drizzle with native mint oil and top with sweet potato curls.
Smokey Eggplant Pasta Pinwheels with Napoli, Sweet Potato Curls and Native Mint Oil
2 x med – large eggplant
1 stick butter
1 med onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic
¼ tsp smokey paprika
¼ tsp ground ginger
2 tsp salt
pepper to taste
onion skin that forms a cup
Good quality breadcrumbs
- Roast eggplants whole for 1hr at 190°C until withered and completely soft
- When you can handle them, cut in half and scrape out the flesh, discarding the skin
- Heat 5 Tblsp of butter in a large frying pan with a tight lid. Add the onion and sauté until the onion is completely soft
- Add the garlic and paprika, ginger, salt and pepper and continue to stir and cook until the onion is browned
- Add the eggplant flesh and stir and fry for 2 min.
- Meanwhile melt the remaining 3 Tblsp butter over very low heat.
- Place the onion “cup” in the center of the eggplant mix and pour the butter into the “cup”.
- Heat a spoon over a gas flame until red hot then rest in the butter, quickly placing the lid on the frypan.
- Leave covered for 10 min. Remove the spoon and stir the smoked butter into the eggplant and discard the onion cup
- Mix with the ricotta and enough breadcrumbs to form a firm-ish mix
375g Durum wheat pasta
4 – 5 eggs
1 Tblsp olive oil
Flour for dusting
- Combine ingredients in a bowl
- Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes
- Cover in cling wrap and let rest for at least 1 hr
- Roll out to a moderate thickness (I use guage #5)
Canned organic tomatoes
1 x onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and Pepper
Lots of Olive Oil
- Saute onions with generous amounts olive oil until soft without browning
- Add the tomatos and the garlic
- Bring to boil and reduce to simmer for at least ½ hr, stirring occasionally
- Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with extra olive oil
Spread the eggplant mix on the pasta sheets to about 1/2 cm thick. Roll up the sheet and slice into 2cm thick slices. Heat olive oil in a pan and seal both sides of the pinwheels. Poach in gently simmering water or stock until they rise to the top and pasta is just cooked. Serve atop warm napolitana, drizzle with native mint oil and top with a small handful of sweet potato curls.
Chocolate Beetroot Brownies with Sweet Beet Reduction and Lemon Myrtle Sorbet
Chocolate and beetroot brownie
40g butter (subst: Nuttlex, Coconut oil or other Vegan shortening)
3 Tbls Olive oil
60gm 70% cocoa chocolate
1/2 c brown sugar
1/2 c caster sugar
2 eggs (subst: egg replacer)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flour, sifted
300g roasted beets
¼ c. good quality cocoa powder
- Wrap unpeeled beetroot chunks in foil, making a tight package. Roast beetroot in 180°C for approx 50 minutes until soft. Let cool then process in a food processor until fine.
- Preheat oven to 180°C or 160°C fan forced. Lightly grease then line the bottom only of a small loaf pan or baking dish.
- Gently melt the butter/vegan shortening and chocolate together until smooth. Stir in sugar.
- Beat in eggs/replacer and vanilla then lightly stir in the flour.
- Turn batter into prepared pan.
- Bake for about 30 minutes or until brownies begin to pull away from the sides of the pan.
- Let brownie cooling in the pan.
Sweet beet reduction
2 Tbls sugar
- Juice beetroots
- Add to a pan with sugar
- Bring to a simmer and reduce until it has a thick syrupy consistency (not too thick
Lemon Myrtle sorbet
2 c water
1 c sparkling mineral water
20 young Lemon myrtle leaves, bruised
1 c. caster sugar
- Wash and dry the lemon myrtle leaves
- Crush slightly and add to pan with water and sugar
- Bring to the boil and simmer for 4 minutes
- Remove from heat and allow to cool for a while letting the leaves steep
- Pass it through a coarse sieve and pour into a plastic tub or earthenware dish and mix with mineral water.
- Place in the freezer and every half an hour, whisk for 15 seconds and return to freezer
- Repeat this procedure until the sorbet becomes too hard to whisk. The whisking lightens the sorbet and prevents large ice crystals from forming
- Generally, sorbet takes five hours to set – longer in my experience!
- If the sorbet becomes too hard overnight, process in a food processor then re-freeze
Dip a dessert spoon into the reduction and let excess drip off. Using the back of the spoon scrape accross a plate to make a smear. Place on brownie, a scoop of sorbet and dust with icing sugar.
Painted Dessert Serenade
I can’t end this post without a few landscape pictures of Japarit. It was so stunningly beautiful and no wonder the artists were so inspired to create beautiful art up there. If you want to check out the exhibition visit Altitudeart or just head up to Japarit to the exhibition.