Sunday, 28 April 2013

Sunshine in a Jar

I want to know why we don't get spring here in Stockfish, CA. We skip immediately to summer, later this week it will be in the upper 90s. So this seems appropriate enough. Slice oranges as thin as you can with a knife or mandoline. These are blood oranges and navels. Then dehydrate them thoroughly either in a machine or on your roof. These are machined, about 48 hours. Then heat a bottle of cheap chardonnay, add a pound of sugar to make a syrup. Throw in a few cloves and cassia buds. Fill jar with orange slices and pour over syrup. Let sit a few months until mid summer. Take out a single slice and lay it on top of a glass of ice cold gin. Pour over tonic if you must. Sunshine!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Wild Garlic Treasure Hunt

As you are probably aware, in the UK, the wild garlic season is now fully upon us. And you should be aware, for in the immortal words of Harry Nilsson, everybody's talkin'. Bloggers, chefs, cooks, food writers, foragers, dogs, cats, my Nan and a whole cross-section of society that I can't be bothered to list right now. If you didn't know, then I would suggest that you have been living under a rock or have perhaps been hiding your cranium up your posterior. But no matter, word on the street is that the humble allium ursinum is out. Definitely out out and out and about. I know this because around this time of year, I do tend to get a lot of enquiries about the stuff and everyone starts talkin' at me, in oh so slightly desperate ways. 

"Hey man, like, I heard you've got a stash of green growing in your garden and well, you know, its been such a hard winter man and like, I just want a couple of leaves man, you know, to stick in some soup or something like that and jesus man, its just been so long, I just want to taste some of that pungent chive man, please, I know you got some, oh God, just give me some please, oh pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease....."

As such, in the past, a lot of dodgy meetings on street corners have been arranged where I have swapped some wild garlic for a token slice of cake or some of last night's dinner. Which is absolutely fine by me. I am only too happy to give wild garlic away, as it does indeed grow rampantly around our cherry tree at home and I am always at odds as to what to do with it. I even stuck some on toast and grilled it with manchego the other day, just by way of trying to make a dent. Then I had an idea.
Given the level of interest at the moment in ramsons, would people be up for a little bit of a challenge, a bit of fun in order to get their hands on their very own wild garlic to plant at home? Would people be up for a wild garlic treasure hunt around London taaaan? I put this notion across on Twitter yesterday and quite a few seemed up for the task, so after mulling the idea over some more, I have decided to go for it.

So the premise is this. Next Thursday, on May 2nd, I am going to head up to London with five lush and full wild garlic plants; leaves, flowers, bulbs, soil and all. I will head to my first location at 10AM and then tweet a clue as to where I am, using the hashtag #wildgarlictreasurehunt. I will then wait for 30 minutes or until someone finds me and then I will move onto the next location and then tweet a new clue. The area I propose to move around in will be central in town, with the occasional hop over the river. And the thinking is to go on and on until hopefully, I have been found five times and all five garlic plants are given away and everyone is all smiles and laughter.

There is of course, an inherent danger that my tweets will be totally ignored and I will spend the whole day traipsing the streets, going from one place to another, carrying a bag of heady stink and the whole endeavour will be pointless. If that does happen, I will simply head to a pub, cry into several pints of beer before going home at midnight on the vomit comet back to Essex and throw clumps of wild garlic at everyone on my carriage. I will probably get arrested but I still believe this little project is worth a go.

You might be asking yourself "Why?" at this point in proceedings and my answer would be "Why not?" I haven't indulged in anything nonsensical lately with regards to the blog and I do like to embark on some social meeja experimentation from time to time. Using Twitter will be interesting, as lately it has become a rather self-serving platform, a fog horn to promote one's profile and of course, I am as guilty as any with regards to that. Christ, this whole idea is one big fist of 'look at me!' But once upon a time, there was a strong sense of humour and community on there, of people getting together for the simple love of food and larks. And I just wonder with this little project if we could scrape some of that back.

So what say ye fud people of Twitter, are you with me? Do you want some bloody wild garlic or wot?

Oh and please do spread the word......

Sunday, 21 April 2013

PASS THE SALT PLEASE - and make these gorgeous golden Fleur de Sel pecan caramels this week.

 Fleur de Sel pecan caramels
These delightful caramels are soft and chewy with a salty edge to balance against the sugary sweetness. Package them up into a tin box and wrap around some pretty ribbon and voila! You have a homemade hostess gift. You will need a candy thermometer to make these caramels; you can buy thermometers at good kitchenware stores.
Makes approximately 36 pieces

• olive oil spray, for greasing
• ¾ cup cream
30g butter
1 vanilla bean, split
½ teaspoon Fleur de Sel
1 cup sugar
¾ cup honey
extra, 30g butter, diced
½ cup roasted pecans
extra, ¼ teaspoon Fleur de Sel

1.Line a 15 x 25cm loaf pan with baking paper and spray lightly with olive oil spray.
2.Combine the cream, butter, vanilla bean and Fleur de Sel in a small saucepan over medium heat until it comes to the boil, remove from the heat and cover with the saucepan lid to keep warm.
3.To make the caramel, combine the sugar and honey in a medium, heavy based saucepan. Stir gently over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Be careful to not let the mixture come to the boil until the sugar has dissolved or the caramel will crystalize.
4.Once the sugar has dissolved, take a pastry brush dip it in a little water and clean around the edges of the saucepan to make sure there are no sugar crystals on the sides of the saucepan.
5.Place in the candy thermometer and bring to a rapid simmer, cook until the syrup reaches 155ºC (310ºF) on the candy thermometer,
6.Remove from the heat. Carefully pour the cream mixture into the caramel, stir well and then remove the vanilla bean.
7. Return to a medium heat and cook the caramel until it reaches 127ºC (260ºF). Remove from the heat and stir through the diced butter and pecans. Mix until the butter has melted. Pour into the prepared pan, sprinkle with the extra Fleur de Sel and allow to set at room temperature.
8. Once cool remove from the pan and slice into bite size pieces.
9. Store in a cool dark place, individually wrap in wax paper to prevent sticking together.

food dept. fact: Fleur de sel is French for ‘flower of salt’. It is hand harvested from saltpans along the coast of Brittany and is available at specialty stores. If you can’t find it you can use flaked sea salt.

To buy Fleur de sel and other amazing salt mixes online try our friends at the saltbox

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Marcello Tully's Rice Krispie Fish Fingers

 Snap, Crackle, Pop

When it comes to the matter of breakfast cereal, I do find that my opinions become quite divided on the subject. Let's face it, a bowlful of light ineffectual processed grain, laced with 'vitamins', laden with sugar and sploshed with milk isn't really the best start to the day is it. And the fact that the creator or originator of cereal, now a multi-squillion pound industry, was a flatulant Seventh-day Aventist who enjoyed a yoghurt enema every now and then, also makes me very wary.

But when cereal is used in a different context, say as an ingredient within a dish, as a component for texture, I do sort of become more relaxed with the whole idea of cereal. Take chocolate cornflake nest cakes for instance. OK, not much healthier than the morning bowlful. In fact, quite frankly, they are the culinary equivalent of crack. But still, whoever drummed up the concept of pouring melted cocoa over orange flattened corn scabs and leave to set again is a genius. It was probably a kid. An evil genius wunderkind, set on world domination via mind control. I know this because whenever I make them or buy them, after taking the first bite, I soon fall into this frenzied, beleaguered state and lose all self-respect and control. The amount of times I have woken up naked, in some distant woodland copse with mouth and chin smeared in brown, fingernails caked and bits of cornflake stuck on my matted hairy chest is beyond me. Ah, such is the lycanthropic power of chocolate clusters.

However, when cereal is used as a witty take, to liven up a traditional recipe and to give a things a twist, well then I am up for that too. Like rice krispie fish fingers for instance. Recently I took part in an online cookalong with Marcello Tully, as part of Great British Chefs' recent campaign to get kids into the kitchen and cod, coated with puffed rice was on the menu. As cookalongs go, this was one was good fun, even though I had trouble keeping up with Marcello and burnt the first batch of fingers. The twins were involved you see and whilst I applaud the good intentions of this project, which is in association with Tesco Real Food, I long for the day when their nimble fingers can be put to finer use. Rather than have to deal with the very same fingers when they are coagulated with egg, flour and rice krispies.

A question I had for Marcello was went along the lines of "WHEN DO KIDS FINALLY GET TO GRIPS WITH COOKING??" and it was nice to see a wry smile appear on his face. The man, a father of two himself, obviously felt my pain. The cookalong was recorded and can be viewed here by the way, where you can see me and the kids scrambling along at bottom. Thank gawd, I muted the microphone on the laptop is all I can say.

As for the fish fingers themselves, when I made them a second time for lunch, they came out very well. Surprisingly so. Rice krispies are an excellent conduit for keeping fish nice and moist so it seems and the addition of the paprika to the flour added a lovely warm depth to the crunch of the coating. The mayonnaise I made was a bit on the flabby side, trying to keep up with a daughter pouring half a gallon of sunflower oil into a bowl was very tricky. I am amazed it didn't split.

In terms of endorsement for the recipe though, the final word has to go to my boy, Fin, who initially thought I was "Mad" to use rice krispies for fish fingers. After ploughing through 4 fat goujons at the dinner table, he wiped his mouth, put his hand on my shoulder and with a smile said that maybe I wasn't so mad after all.

No, Daddy only goes mad when he eats chocolate cornflakes son.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

High Tech Eggplant

Lest anyone accuse me of being unflinching in my Luddite proclivities, I think the recent IACP conference has nudged me into an oddly experimentalist (dare I say modernist?) direction. I have nothing against science per se. But honestly, I'm not into electric gadgets mostly because food tastes better using old tried and true processes. I'm not sure this does taste better, but it was fun. OK, so take an eggplant, and peel it with your baby blue kyocera peeler. Works like a charm. Then take out your mandoline (thanks Oxo folks) and slice the thinnest possible rounds. Salt lightly. Then put it into a serious MOFO dehydrator for a whole day. I bought that bitch. (NOT for myself). When it comes out, you have whisps of crispy eggplant. I was thinking I like the bitter liquid, so why salt and pour it off? Then drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and grate a raw tomato (without skin) on top. Season with pepper and oregano. And nuke it for a minute. So not really cooked. It's really spicy and lovely. Today I added some lemon juice and a little water to make it more tender and really cooked it. It sure looks like eggplant parmigiano, no? There's no cheese, but still quite nice, and not mushy, which is what happens when you just slice and nuke eggplants. OK, I am embracing the technology.

Sous-vide Pig Cheeks (After A Fashion)


So, I spent some time tinkering in the kitchen the other day. Or maybe tinkling is the operative world; considering that a lot of that time was spent pouring minuscule amounts of cold water into a crock pot, in a vain effort to keep conditions at an optimum 80 degrees centigrade. Actually, it was a whole day of tinkling. And beeping. And tinkling. And beeping and tickling and beeping and tinkling. A sort of nightmarish groundhog day, governed with severity by a screeching temperature probe and coupled with an agitated, pressing concern to keep visiting the toilet. It wasn't nice at all really.

But what was I up to anyway? Well, I keep hearing about the magic of a cooking technique called 'sous-vide', a prissy system that looks simple.... no wait, perhaps I've got that the wrong way round.... whatever, I have heard exponents of cooking 'under vacuum' say that this is wonderful, wonderful method and have been eager to give the process a go.

To give a brief overview of sous-vide, it is a method of cooking food that has been vacuum packed and sealed in a plastic bag, which is then poached in a water bath, that is kept at a constant, exact temperature, for an infinite, inordinate amount of time, to ensure even cooking throughout, thus guaranteeing a certain degree of juiciness, especially with meat. This is because at lower temperatures, proteins within food cannot cellurisify and burst through their permeable membrane nucleus; in fact, after 48 hours gelatins begin to hydrolate at various physical states, both within the biosphere and at quantum levels and as the collagen breaks down and depolymerizatizeses, sealed lumps of meat actually become self-basting and enriched with moisture from their very own gloop. This is the science*.

However, I was just interested in trying to stop my pig cheeks from shrinking. I love tender pig cheeks but I hate the way they seem to shrink into small porky nuggets after braising for a few hours. I want to keep them as fat and plump as possible. So to my enquiring, perceptive mind, sous-vide seemed like a way to go. Keep 'em trapped in stasis, with just a few aromatics, well where are those juices going to go, eh? Nowhere, that's where. Except I don't have a professional sous-vide machine. No PR company has been trusting enough to send me one (wouldn't mind, it's not like they fetch much on eBay anyway). I do however have a crock pot, the aforementioned temperature probe and a vac pac machine, which seals, after a fashion. So I set up a little experiment, just to see how it worked out.

Roughly taking the lead from this recipe from the British Larder, I neatly trimmed up four cheeks, bought from Waitrose for just one English pound and stuffed them in a pouch with a bay leaf, some garlic, some rosemary, some olive oil and, get this, a teaspoon of marmalade. The pouch was then duly sealed, sort of, and I waited for the water in the crock pot to reach 80 degrees and then plopped the bag in for its maiden flight. Because there was some air in the pouch, the bag floated back up to the top so I had to weigh it down with a ramekin but no matter, it still felt like I was doing something revolutionary. And then I spent the day going about my business around the house, completing chores, playing with the kids etc etc. Only having to return to the crock pot, say every 10 to 20 minutes, whenever the alarm when off at 81 degrees, to top up with cold water, to stop it getting too hot.

I did this for 8 hours.

And after those 8 long, torturous, continence testing hours, I fished the cheeks back out, cut the bag and plucked the oval-shaped beauties out. There had been some shrinkage with some 'matter' left floating around in the bag, which I can only presume was liquefied fibroblast (which of course is derived from mesenchyme) but I was quite happy with the end result. The cheeks were extremely soft and held together well, even after a quick flash in the pan for a bit o' Maillard reaction. They were screaming out for some mash as an accompaniment but I went in for some seasonal ponce instead, making a salad of watercress, radish and hazelnuts with a lemon vinaigrette. The sweetness of the flaked meat stood out beautifully against the hot leaves and pink roots, like swine amongst peppery pearls. Although the sauce was a touch too tart for this dish, so I would have to rethink that. But overall, not a bad effort (he says, patting all self-congratulatory like on the back).

Would I go down the whole rigmarole of tinkling into my crock pot again like a veritable Manneken Pis though? Probably not but I did like having a tinker with the whole process so I would certainly consider hacking my crock pot and using different meats and flavour combinations in future. If I do, you'll be sure that I will write another informative blog post on the doing science aspect of it all.

So watch out Harold McGee, there's a new playa in town and he sort of knows his stuff. After a fashion.

*Perhaps as a footnote, I should add that I gleaned a lot of this scientific information about the chemical processes of sous-vide after browsing through Modernist Cuisine in Waterstones. Given my propensity for absorbing information quickly, I read, well scanned, the whole tome in under five minutes. So sure, some of the intellectual jargon may be a bit off but there is definitely a good section which covers the whole method. I am sure of that.

Cheeks in bag
Weighed down cheeks
Cooked cheeks
Poncy cheeks

Saturday, 13 April 2013

What is Comfort Food Anyway?

Pardon my absence folks, I was at the Renaissance Society Conference in San Diego, then the IACP in San Francisco (my panel with Sandor Katz, Maxime Bilet and Anne McBride on High Tech and Low Tech in the Kitchen went wonderfully). And then I was talking in Sonoma. But a day in between gigs I had an intriguing conversation with my freshmen food seminar, related directly to the dish you see here. One student's research project was on comfort food. I thought I knew what that term meant and we might, with some simple surveying, be able to figure out if there are differences among men and women, people of different backgrounds or ages, or something to make sense of the concept. At least we could decide that there are some basic flavors, textures, nostaglic dishes that work to comfort the tired, weary, stressed - such as I have been from travel. Absolutely NOT. Answers included soup and mashed potatoes, which I expected. But also sausages. (I can see that!) chocolate, ice cream and even cool water. Some students said spicy, others sweet. The answers were so random in fact that I am beginning to doubt the concept has any validity whatsoever.

All I know is that this dish here works as comfort food for my younger son. And me too incidentally. It's ordinary polenta, with butter and parmiggiano. And he's lately been turned on to shrimp. They're breaded in whole wheat panko (that they gave us at the IACP) and fried in coconut oil. They were absolutely succulent. A conceptual nod to shrimp and grits, but not in the least similar. You know, I think just cooking at home is a comfort after travelling for a week. OK So the question is What IS Comfort Food to You?

Monday, 8 April 2013

Burger Rain

A current favourite on Sunday morning in the FU household is a children's televisual programme called 'The Aquabats! Super Show!' Based upon the adventures of a team of superheroes who drive around in a supervan battling supervillians, everything is fantastically superbonkers and we enjoy watching it immensely. Sitting all together on the sofa, in our pyjamas, whilst drinking tea and eating crumpets. The Aquabats are also accomplished musicians in their own right and are in fact a rock/punk/ska band proper (apparently) and throughout each episode, have been coming up with wondrous musical ditties such as 'Wingin' It' and 'Doing Science'.

The best so far however, has to be 'Burger Rain'. And when I heard it yesterday morning, I was not only tickled by its simple brilliance but it also soon became apparent that this song; this beautiful, majestic, soaring song should become an anthem for slavish devotees of beef patties, pickles and buns everywhere across the land. Of which there are many.

If they don't start playing it on Burger Mondays, someone is missing a trick.

Friday, 5 April 2013


Like a lot of blokes, if there is one attribute that I can claim wholeheartedly, it is the guiding principle that whatever decisions I make, they will be made with unswerving confidence. Do I need a map? No, I know exactly where I am going. Is an angle grinder really the right tool for the job? Of course it is and besides, I don't know what I've done with the pliers. Should I really be putting white spirit on the charcoal like that? Yes, I bloody well should, how else am I going to get this thing started? No, the burgers won't be tainted with the smell, now will you just go away and leave me to get on with this? Please?

Yes, you can be safe in the knowledge that whatever I do do, I guarantee you that I really do know what I am doing. Because I am a do-er. And do-ers gets things done.

Take choosing wine for instance. Spot me in the booze aisle of a supermarket and you will have the pleasure of witnessing a man masterfully in charge of his own destiny. Watch him as he peruses through the different sections and picks up various bottles to hold up to the light. Just look at his inquisitive face as he scrutinises, ponders and considers with tenacity and thought. Marvel as he wistfully travels the globe and meanders through the vineyards and terroirs of his mind, recalling grape varieties from worlds both old and new. Smile with him when he finds a particular vintage which obviously sparks a particular memory within. Of hands held, fingertips trailing through long grass and cool, straw coloured nectar, drunk in view of a crumbling Cathar stronghold on a baking hot day in a breathless valley, set somewhere in Languedoc.

Then wrinkle your nose and drop your jaw in horror as you see him make his way to the promotions stand and bundle up half a dozen bottles in his arms, which have miraculously been reduced from a RRP of £10 a bottle to 3 for £10. Finally, shake your head sadly, as he skips off triumphant into the distance, full of the joys of spring; knowing full well that in the morning, a thumping head and grimacing, purple stained teeth awaits.

I said I was confident yes, but do I really know what I am doing half the time? Well, in all honesty, no, I don't. So why I was invited to the launch of WineTrust100 is beyond me. I do like wine, I love it in fact but what do I actually know about wine? If you were to hand me the wine list in a restaurant or put me charge of purchasing the social juice* for a party or something like that, I would feel entirely daunted and all at sea by the prospect. Drowning, not waving.

But after listening to the people at WineTrust100 and hearing about their mission to supply the best 100 "quality to price ratio" wines in the world, I suspect that I fall squarely into a category of wine consumer that WineTrust100 wish to court. That is folk who enjoy wine yet remain conservative with their purchases, particularly when it comes to brands and cost. And who, in all frankness, could do with a bit of help when it comes to branching out and experimenting.

Having belonged to various wine clubs in the past, taking delivery of anonymous cardboard boxes every quarter and gone through the long drawn out process of umming and ahhing in the aforementioned supermarket aisle far too many times before, the premise of WineTrust100 does sound appealing. Three Masters of Wine ("These are not the wines you are looking for") select 100 wines a month, the best for their price, from around the world, from small independent producers and categorise them according to style and cost. So far, so very simple. And the website replicates this clean, unfussy approach very well. It sort of sounds daft to highlight but by simply grouping wines by their tasting type - i.e. 'crisp, dry whites', 'full-bodied, rich reds' - the whole decision process is made a lot easier. Think back to the scatter gun approach of how wines are stocked in supermarkets, where eyes have to flit all over the place, up and down and across shelves loaded with random numbers and tidbits of information. Well, that's what makes my brain ache. Plus the pricing structure is pretty straightforward too.

Getting a handle on this quality to price ratio business however, or QPR for short, was a little bit more difficult. One of the Masters of Wine (or MW's for short) Nick Adams is obviously also keen on crunching the scoring numbers for the wines they select, which are based on the individual wine’s vibrancy, balance and character. Yet when he reeled out the various ratios, I did blink vacantly into space somewhat and zone out for a bit. To the uninitiated, the classic scoring system of wine rating, upon which the ratios are based, can seem quite alien and not that many people know what it means to get all excited about a 93 or a 97 or whatever. So perhaps some more clarity could be put in place surrounding this 'QPR'. But overall, coupled with Sarah Abbot's enthusiasm for big gobby reds and John Hoskins friendly, boyish charm, the three MW's projected a warm, engaging and humorous authority on the subject of wine which made it very easy to ‘trust’ them. Again, another principle, that I am sure this new venture is keen to promote.

With regards to the wines they selected for the evening, well they were wonderful and I wish I could extrapolate further…, OK I can, the rich, heavy and very juicy Primitivo di Manduria was by far my favourite; although the fragrant, strawberry flavoured Pink Moscato came a close second. Which is quite a good stab. Still, when it comes to wine, I can’t help but become coy on the subject. I literally feel the confidence drain from my feet when it comes to speaking up and trying to describe wine.

Interestingly, when I expressed this lack of vocabulary or commitment to wine writer Fiona Beckett, over a very noisy table, she gently scoffed and said:

"I don't know what it is about you food bloggers and writers; you could whittle on about the quality of cheese or beef for hours if you had to, talking about how it tastes and whatnot, why do you get all clammed up about wine?"

And she had a point, but by then, my cerebral cortex had been sufficiently soaked with alcohol; far too much to warrant to sensible response. So I just sniffed and nodded back in the direction of John Hoskins, who curiously reminds me of a certain Hollywood actor and replied with:

“Ah, what does it matter what I think about wine anyway, as long it tastes good and doesn’t cost the earth. And besides, I’ve got Kevin Bacon buying my wine for me now. Cheers.”

Visit winetrust100 at to find out more.

Photographs by Michael Pilkington

*social juice pinched from Thirst for Wine's Robert McIntosh

Thursday, 4 April 2013

SALT - the everyday essential ingredient that can make or break your meal.


Salmon gravlax with Dijon crème fraiche dressing and pickled cucumbers
You will need to start this recipe one day ahead. For a great party platter  - serve with some toasted rye bread and all the delicious accompaniments. Let people serve themselves, pop a bottle of crisp, cold champagne and get the party started!

• 2 cups rock salt
• 1 cup sugar
• 1 bunch dill, finely chopped
• 1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed in a mortar and pestle
• zest 1 lemon
• 1/3 cup vodka
• 1.5 kg fillet of salmon trimmed and pinned boned
• 1 quantity Dijon crème fraiche dressing, for serving
• 1 quantity Pickled cucumber and onion, for serving
• toasted rye bread, for serving

1. Combine the rock salt, sugar, dill, juniper berries, lemon zest and vodka in a large bowl, mix well.
2. Using a large non-reactive dish (glass, china or stainless steel), sprinkle an even layer of salt over the base of the dish lay the salmon fillet on top, skin side down.  If the salmon fillet is too large to fit in the dish, cut the salmon fillet in half. Sprinkle with the remaining salt mixture between the layers and over the salmon, ensure all of the salmon flesh is coated.
3. Cover with plastic wrap and the weigh down with a heavy chopping board and a couple of cans.
Refrigerate for 12 hours, uncover the salmon turn over the fillet, recover with plastic and the weights and refrigerate for another 12 hours.
Remove from the refrigerator and brush off the salt mixture, wipe with some damp paper towel. Store the fillet in the refrigerator until ready to serve. It is important to remove the salt mixture after 24 hours or the fish will continue to cure and become very firm.
To serve, slice the salmon very thinly and arrange on a serving platter with the Dijon crème fraiche dressing, Pickled cucumber and onions and serve with some toasted rye bread.

Dijon crème fraiche dressing
Makes approximately 1 cup

• 200ml crème fraiche
• 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
• 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
• 1 teaspoon sugar
• salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine, set aside in the refrigerator until ready to serve. Keeps for 1 week in the refrigerator.

Pickled cucumber and onions
Makes approx. 3 cups

• 3 Lebanese cucumbers
• ½ white onion, sliced into very thin wedges
• ¼ cup dill sprigs
• 1 cup white vinegar
• ½ cup water
• ½ cup sugar
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds

1. Using a mandolin on the thinnest setting, slice the cucumbers, discarding the ends. You can also use the mandolin to slice the onion.
2. Layer the cucumber, onion and dill sprigs in a non-reactive dish (glass, china or stainless steel).
3. Combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and fennel seeds in a small saucepan. Stir over a medium heat until the sugar dissolved and then bring to the boil. Pour over the cucumber, onion and dill, once cooled cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until required, keeps for 1 month.


Grilled rib eye with porcini and peppercorn salt and lemony salsa verde
Having a barbie? (That's Aussie for barbeque or grill). Impress your friends with our salty, juicy steak, but the best part about this recipe, is you can make the porcini salt and salsa verde in advance. Go on, fire up the barbie mate!
Serves 4

4 x rib eye steaks, approximately 2cm thick
1 tablespoon olive oil, for rubbing
1 quantity Porcini and peppercorn salt
1 quantity Lemony salsa verde

1. Bring the meat to room temperature before cooking. Rub liberally with olive oil and Porcini and peppercorn salt, use approximately 1 teaspoon or the salt rub per steak.
2. Heat barbecue grill or grill pan until hot.
3. Place the steaks onto the barbecue and cook for 1 minute, give the steaks a ¼ turn on the same side and cook for another 1 minute. This will give crisscross grill markings on the steak.
4. Turn the steak over and cook for 1 minute, give the steaks a ¼ turn on the 2ndside and continue to cook for another 1 minute.
5. Remove the steaks from the barbecue and cover loosely with foil. Allow to stand in a warm place for 4 minutes until ready to serve. Steaks will be cooked medium rare.
6. Serve immediately with the Lemony salsa verde and your favourite vegetable salads and sides.

Porcini and peppercorn salt
Makes 1/3 cup

10g dried porcini mushrooms
½ teaspoon black peppercorns
¼ cup salt flakes

1. Combine the porcini mushrooms and peppercorns in a spice grinder or mortar and grind until fine.
2. Mix the porcini and pepper mixture into the salt flakes and store in a jar until ready to use. Keeps for up to 6 months.

Lemony salsa verde
Makes ½ cup

1 clove garlic
rind 1 lemon
1 cup continental parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, finely chopped
2 anchovy fillets
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
juice ½ lemon
salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth.
2. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Return to room temperature before serving.

Himalayan rock salt and caraway seed pretzels
Don't be put off by the look of these salty, golden, plaits, they are super easy to create and make a great movie-night snack.
Makes 16 pretzels

2 cups warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried yeast
5½ cups bread flour
1 tablespoon salt
olive oil spray, for greasing
2 tablespoons bicarbonate of soda
1 egg, lightly beaten with 2 tablespoons water, to make an egg wash
1 tablespoon Himalayn rock salt
2 teaspoons caraway seeds
seeded mustard or dijonnaise, to serve

1. Place warm water in the bowl of an electric mixer that can use a dough hook. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve, sprinkle over the yeast. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to rest for 10 minutes or until the yeast begins to foam. This is the yeast activating and beginning to work.
2. Place the bowl onto the mixer and add the flour and salt. Mix on a low speed until the flour is combined. Turn up to a medium speed and knead with the mixer for 5-7 minutes or until the dough is smooth and springy.
3. Lightly grease a large mixing bowl and place in the dough, turn the dough over or lightly spray with more oil spray so that the surface of the dough is lightly covered with the oil. Place the tea towel over the bowl and allow to stand in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size. A sunny window sill is always good or if it’s a cold grey day fill your sink with hot water and place the bowl on a cooling rack over the water and cover completely with a towel.
4. Once the dough has doubled in size, divide it in to 16 even pieces. I find the easiest way to do this is to weigh the whole dough and divide by 16, then you can weigh each piece and you will end up with pretzels all the same size, cover with a tea towel to prevent drying out.
5. Preheat oven to 220ºC (425ºF). Place a large deep-sided frying pan with approximately 4cm of water and the bicarbonate of soda over a low heat and bring to a slow simmer.
6. Roll each ball of dough into a sausage shape approximately 45-50 cm long. To do this start in the centre and roll the sausage backwards and forwards at the same time you are stretching the dough outwards. Once it reaches the correct length bring the 2 ends of the dough around towards you and cross them over each other twice. Then flip the twist and the 2 ends back onto the curve of the dough to create a pretzel shape. Working with a few pretzels at a time, poach them in the simmering water for 1 minute, remove with a slotted spoon and place on a lined baking tray.
7. Brush the pretzels with the egg wash and then sprinkle with the Himalayan salt and caraway seeds; bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
8. Serve warm from the oven with a bowl of mustard or dijionnaise, for dipping.

Salt and Sichuan pepper baby prawns with coriander and lime aioli
Go to any good Sydney restaurant and you will find similar prawn recipes to this on the menu. Australia is known for it's clean warm waters and wonderful fresh seafood, so we decided to do a stay at home crispy prawn recipe for those of you who can't make it to ole Sydney town. 
Serves 6 for nibbles or 4 for entree

500g baby school prawns
1 tablespoon Sichuan pepper
2 teaspoons white peppercorns
½ cup rice flour
1 tablespoon flaked sea salt
extra 1 tablespoon flaked sea salt
vegetable oil, for deep frying                      
1 quantity Coriander and lime aioli, to serve

1. Place the whole, unshelled prawns into a colander and give them quick rinse cold water, set aside and allow to drain.
2. Place the Sichuan pepper and peppercorns into a mortar and pestle and crush well. Combine half of the crushed peppers with the rice four and salt in a large bowl. Combine the remaining crushed peppers with the extra 1 tablespoon salt flakes and set aside for serving. Toss the prawns in flour mixture to coat.
3. Heat oil in a wok over a medium heat. Test that the oil is hot enough by dipping the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil; it should sizzle if the oil is hot enough.
4. Take a handful of the prawns from the flour and place into a sieve, give it a quick shake to remove any excess flour and them carefully tip the prawns into the hot oil. Allow the prawns to cook for 2-3 minutes depending on their size. Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on absorbent paper. Repeat with remaining prawns until they are all cooked. While hot sprinkle with the extra pepper and salt mixture.
5. Serve immediately with the Coriander and lime aioli.

Coriander and lime aioli
This amazing aioli takes just 15 seconds to whizz up!
Makes approximately 1 ½ cups.

2 free range eggs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup light olive oil
juice 1 lime
½ cup coriander leaves
1 teaspoon salt flakes
black pepper, to taste

1. Combine all ingredients in a large jug.
2. Using a stick blender, blend for 15 seconds or until aioli is thick. If the aioli is too thick add a little more lime juice or water to thin to dipping consistency. Keeps for 1 week in the refrigerator.

food dept. fact: Aioli is usually a time consuming thing to make, but use a stick blender and it emulsifies the ingredients in seconds. This method won't work with a blender or food processor.

Salt-crusted roast chicken with tarragon vinaigrette
There really is something exciting and magical about this recipe. You start by wrapping up a chicken in a layer of salt, you may think, too much salt, but trust in the recipe, it works. Once cooked, crack open the warm salt crust, and the smell of salt and tarragon steams out from the shell, to reveal a delicious tender chicken. Mmmmm, yum!
Serves 4

1.8kg free range chicken
½ bunch tarragon
1 clove garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
black pepper, to taste
2 lemons, zest finely grated and the lemons halved
extra, 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
extra, 1 bunch tarragon
2kg cooking salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, crushed in a mortar and pestle
4 free range egg whites
¼ cup water
salad greens and avocado, to serve
1 quantity of Tarragon vinaigrette, to serve

1. Preheat oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Rinse the chicken under cold water and dry with paper towel.
2. Combine the tarragon leaves, garlic, olive oil and black pepper in a food processor and blend until it forms a thin paste. Rub the paste over the chicken, inside the cavity and under the skin on the breast. Be careful not to tear the skin or the salt crust will penetrate the flesh and become too salty.
3. Stuff the cavity of the chicken with two of the lemon halves and the extra cloves of garlic. Truss the chicken and set aside while you prepare the salt for the crust.
4. Remove the extra bunch of tarragon and finely chop. Combine tarragon in a large bowl with the salt, lemon zest, pepper, egg whites and water. Using your hand mix the ingredients well. The salt mixture should the consistency of wet sand that you would use to build a sand castle.
5. Place a layer of the salt mixture into the base of a heavy baking dish, approximately 2 cm thick. It only needs to big enough for the chicken to sit on. Pack the remaining salt around and over the chicken to completely encase the chicken.
6. Bake the chicken for 2 hours.  While the chicken is baking prepare the vinaigrette and salad. Once baked remove the chicken form the oven and allow to stand for 15 minutes.
7. Break open the salt crust to reveal the chicken. You may need to use a meat mallet or pestle to crack the salt crust. Using a towel or oven mitts break off the reaming salt, brush off any broken bits of the salt and remove the chicken skin to reveal beautiful juicy chicken.
8. Serve with salad greens and a drizzle of the Tarragon dressing.

Tarragon vinaigrette
Makes 1 cup

½ bunch tarragon leaves, finely chopped
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup tarragon vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1 clove garlic, squashed but still whole
salt and black pepper, to taste

1. Combine all the ingredients in a jar and shake well. Remove the garlic clove before use. Use as required.


Salt and rosemary crusted potatoes
Love roast potatoes? Well these spuds are out of control ahhhh-mazing! Bite through crunchy, salty potato skins to clouds of soft warm mash, what a fabulous winter warming treat.
Serves 6

6 large Sebago potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil
¾ cup cooking salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped rosemary
softened butter, to serve

1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF). Scrub the potatoes clean and dry with paper towel. Pierce the potatoes several times with a skewer and brush with olive oil.
2. Combine the salt and rosemary in a medium bowl and roll the potatoes in the salt to create a crust, reserve left over salt mixture.
3. Using the reserved salt and rosemary mixture, place 6 small piles of salt onto a lined baking tray. Place the potatoes on top of the piles of salt.
4. Bake for 1- 1½ hours depending on the size of the potatoes. Test with a skewer to make sure they are cooked through. Being careful when you pierce the skin so that the salt crust isn’t damaged.
5. Once cooked remove from the oven and using a fork mark a cross in the skin of the potato.  Pinch the sides of the potato to open up the fluffy flesh. Serve hot with a dollop of butter.

Peanut butter and choc chunk ice cream with cinnamon salt and peanut biscuits
We are not sure you will ever forgive us for introducing you to this incredible flavour combination, but go ahead, indulge away! The smooth, sweetness of the icecream is wonderfully balanced against the salty, nuttiness of the crunchy biscuit. It's a flavour sensation.
Makes 1½ litres

1 litre good quality vanilla ice cream
150g dark chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup chopped salted peanuts
½ cup organic peanut butter
½  teaspoon salt flakes
1 quantity Cinnamon salt and peanut biscuits

1. Soften the ice cream and place into a large mixing bowl.
2. Sprinkle over the chocolate and peanuts, dot with small spoonsful of the peanut butter and sprinkle over the salt flakes. Mix the ice cream to evenly distribute the chocolate, nuts and peanut butter but do not over mix or you will loose the swirls of peanut butter.
3. Return to a plastic container and freeze for 4 hours or overnight.
4. Serve with Cinnamon salt and peanut biscuits.

Cinnamon salt and peanut biscuits
Makes approximately 20 biscuits

125g unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup brown sugar
1 free range egg
1½ cups self-raising flour
1 cup roasted peanuts
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt flakes

1. Preheat the oven to 180ºF (360ºF). Combine the butter and sugar in a bowl, cream together using and electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix well.
2. Add the flour and beat in on low until well combined. Using a wooden spoon mix through the peanuts.
3. Using heaped tablespoons full of mixture, shape into balls and place onto a lined baking tray.  Lightly flatten.
4. Combine the cinnamon and salt flakes in a small bowl. Sprinkle onto the biscuits and bake to 10-12 minutes or until golden.
5. Cool on the tray and store in an airtight container.

With thanks to JL Huth for helping us in the kitchen on the day of shooting!