Introducing… the Product Agency

I’ve had a pretty amazing journey in digital.

When I was 13, I ran an unsuccessful BBS (Bulletin Board Service). When I was 15, I learnt Photoshop and Pagemaker and started an underground newspaper at school.

At 16, I started a website and built many many more from there.

I ran a successful and rather large digital agency for 18 years.

And after that, I headed up (digital) “product” at one of Australia’s largest media businesses.

I have never been that fascinated by digital businesses however.

Freelancer. Canva. Amazon.

Sure, they’re amazing, though they don’t struggle with digital.

Instead, as someone who has spent years and years working for clients building apps and websites and emails, I have been fascinated by traditional businesses and how they have embraced it all.

By all accounts, not terribly well.

So, whilst cooking is my passion at home, building digital products at work is my other passion.

Which is why I am back agency side… with a new agency, The Product Agency.

A new model, a new approach to helping clients – traditional businesses – to migrate from digital to product and to genuinely and sustainably achieve product success. To successfully build successful product.

The wine and food wont stop, though that’s the fun of it right!

Lemon & Mint Eggplant Tagine with Almond Couscous (or Cauliflower Rice)

Serves: 4

This year, all of us in the RobbyDog family are observing Meat Free Monday.

Better for the environment and surely better for us. (We’re on a major diet post a major Christmas diet!)

Prior to this dish, I had never had a vegetarian tagine though Lordy, I wish I had!

It is simple.

It tastes wonderful.

It is super-low calorie at 361 calories.

And it is so filling. Like, you’re stuffed so much so that I had to double-check the servings to make sure I wasn’t eating for two.

(I wasn’t!)

We also switched out the couscous and almonds for cauliflower rice, saving a pile of calories in the process: definitely sub 300-calories which is our twice-daily meal target.

Finally, we added a chilli to the yoghurt which is a necessary addition of spice.

Every time we jump into a diet, we can’t stop fawning over how wonderful vegetables are on all the levels described above. We look a bit silly.

Hopefully, by adding many great vegetarian dishes to our repertoire over the next few months of shredding, we won’t forget.

Meat Free Monday is a pretty good way to start.

Ingredients

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped + 1 crushed
1 tbsp harissa
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
200ml vegetable stock
400gm can chopped tomato
1 large eggplant, trimmed and diced
Zest of 1 small lemon
400gm can of butter beans, drained
175gm whole meal couscous
40gm toasted flaked almond
150gm low fat Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp chopped mind
1 red chilli, chopped with seeds

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and softly fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes. Stir ion the harissa, cumin and cinnamon, cook briefly and add the stock and tomatoes.
  2. Add the eggplant and lemon and then cover the pan and cook gently for 15 – 20 minutes until the eggplant are tender. Add the butter beans and warm through.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the yoghurt, additional garlic, mint and chill=i.
  4. Cook the couscous and then stir in the almonds. Alternatively, prepare cauliflower rice.
  5. Serve the tagine on the couscous (or cauliflower rice) with the yoghurt drizzled over.

Paul Bocuse’ Chicken Salad

Serves: 3

This Paul Bocuse salad is just excellent.

(Not that one would be surprised coming from one of the greatest chefs of all time!)

Such a wonderful, sophisticated flavour. Everything balances, everything is just right.

Definitely a Saturday lunch winner.

(The recipe calls for white baby onions. These ARE NOT those appalling things you can find pickling in jars. You’ll have to shop around – Harris Farm or a nice IGA – though they are out there. If you use those onions in a jar, a curse will come over your kitchen!)

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, skinless and boneless
Cos lettuce, sliced
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 white baby onions, sliced finely
100 gm Gruyère cheese, diced
100 gm black olives, pitted and torn
3 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
100gm walnut pieces
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
6 tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 clove garlic, finely chopped

Method

  1. Poach the chicken in water together with some celery leaves and peppercorns and then cool and slice into strips.
  2. Place the chicken, celery onion, cheese, olives, tomatoes and walnuts in a large bowl and chill.
  3. Whisk together the vinegar, oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
  4. Pour the dressing over the salad just before serving and toss well.

Crispy Roast Potatoes

Serves: 4

Truth is, I am not that enamoured by roast potatoes.

Which puts me in the minority because so often I hear from people just how much they love roast potatoes: also, that they are a treat?

It could be because I had them so often at boarding school, though what is amazing about a dry piece of roasted potato?

Mash with cream and Parmesan. Of course.

Colcannon. Most definitely.

Hasselbacks. Any day.

So there we are a few months back and Nat proposes a Sunday night roast. With roast potatoes.

“Sounds great” I gulp. “Can’t wait.”

Though Nat being Nat, she does her research. Plain old boarding school roast potatoes these will not be.

If you’re into your cooking, you have possibly come across the website Serious Eats. It’s a great site and a great service, where they take different recipes, pull them apart and rebuild them – using science – to create the very best version of that recipe.

It’s very cool.

And so here is… as they put it… “The Best Crispy Roast Potatoes Ever Recipe”.

And to their credit and Nat’s, these are the best I have ever eaten.

Cook them and tell me they’re not.

(The recipe specifically asks for two types of American potatoes that we cannot get in Australia. Through reading etc, the potatoes to use here in Australia are Dutch Cream, Desiree, Coliban or Sebago.)

Ingredients

Kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2kg potato (see note above), peeled and cut into large, 5cm chunks
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil or duck fat
Small handful picked rosemary leaves, finely chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Small handful fresh Italian parsley leaves, minced

Method

  1. Adjust the oven rack to be centred and heat oven to 230c.
  2. Heat 2 litres of water in a large pot over a high heat until boiling. Add 2 tbsp salt, baking soda and potatoes and stir. Return to a boil and then simmer until knife meets little resistance when inserted into a potato chunk: about 10 minutes after returning to a boil.
  3. Combine the olive oil (or duck fat) with rosemary, garlic and a few grinds of pepper in a small saucepan and heat over a medium heat. Cook, stirring and shaking pan constantly, until garlic just begins to turn golden: about 3 minutes.
  4. Immediately strain oil through a fine-mesh strainer set in a large bowl. Set garlic/rosemary mixture aside and reserve separately.
  5. When potatoes are cooked, drain carefully and let them rest in the pot for 30 seconds to allow excess moisture to evaporate. Transfer to bowl with infused oil, season to taste with a little more salt and pepper and toss to coat, shaking bowl roughly, until a thick layer of mashed “potato-like” paste has built up on the chunks.
  6. Transfer potatoes to a large rimmed baking sheet and separate them, spreading them out evenly. Transfer to oven and roast, without moving, for 20 minutes. Using a thin, flexible metal spatula to release and stuck potatoes, shake pan and turn potatoes.
  7. Continue roasting until potatoes are deep brown and crisp all over, turning and shaking them a few times during cooking: around 30 – 40 minutes.
  8. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and add the garlic/rosemary mixture and minced parsley. Toss to coast and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Neil Perry’s Beef Chuck and Pea Pies

Serves: 4

Some nights simply call for a pie.

A few months back on a freezing Saturday, we agreed that we were heading for one of those nights.

And given that the finest pairing to a pie are peas, it was going to be hard to look past this pie from Neil Perry.

It is a pretty down-the-line pie recipe though that is kind of the point for “must have pie” nights. Beef that is falling apart, a cracking gravy and then those peas.

(Plus a proper mash where we diced in a raw eschallot – trust me, it’s brilliant.)

Open a bottle of red, put on a movie and boom, there’s pie night done!

Ingredients

1.25kg beef chuck, diced and cut into 3cm cubes, seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp plain flour
80ml extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, finely diced
2 1/2 tbsp tomato paste
200ml red wine
200ml veal or chicken stock
150gm frozen green baby peas, defrosted
1 handful mint leaves, chopped
1 – 2 sheets frozen puff pastry
1 egg yolk, lightly whisked with 1 tbsp water

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 160c. Toss the seasoned beef with the flour until evenly coated.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy pan over a high heat. Add beef in batches and cook for about five minutes per batch until well browned, then remove. Add more oil to the pan if it dries out.
  3. Add the onion with a pinch of salt and cook over a low heat for about 5 minutes until softened.
  4. Add the tomato paste and 1 tbsp flour and cook for a minute or so. Add the red wine and stock and stir until the mixture boils.
  5. Return the beef to the pan, cover the pan with foil and cook in the oven for at least two hours or until tender. Stir through the peas and mint. Allow to cool, then chill in the fridge until cold. (“Warm filling will ruin the pastry.”)
  6. When the beef filling is ready, heat the oven to 180c. Divide the pie filling among pie dishes and top each with a piece of pastry large enough to hand over the edge of each dish.
  7. Press the pastry down firmly around the edges of the dish and brush evenly with the egg yolk. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes, until puffed and golden.

Annie Smither’s Chicken Cordon Bleu

Serves: 4

We were in Queenstown, NZ this year for my birthday.

(If you haven’t visited Queenstown, it really does need to be on your bucketlist: some of the best restaurants we have eaten at, great bars, amazing vineyards, incredible drives and apparently skiing if you are so inclined.)

One of the most memorable meals was at a restaurant called Rata by Josh Emmet. A beautiful, contemporary restaurant, engaged service, incredibly good food and $45 (!!) for three courses. We simply couldn’t believe it.

Not complete with running an amazing restaurant or having three Michelin Stars to his name, Josh Emmet is also an accomplished cookbook writer and his book ‘The Recipe.’ would have to be one of the best cookbooks I have ever purchased.

The book is a collection of the world’s classic recipes as cooked by the “world’s best chefs”: Gordon Ramsay, Neil Perry, Ken Hom, Christine Manfield, you name it.

It is one of those cookbooks with such beautiful photography where you can happily spend the afternoon with a bottle of wine with your partner, earmarking all the dishes you’re going to cook and dreaming of the wonderful meals coming up.

(If it wasn’t clear, buy this book!)

So… dish #1 – cooked by my very culinarily-capable wife – was Annie Smither’s Chicken Cordon Bleu.

And it was spectacular. Old school, new school spectacular.

Old school in that ham and cheese in a crumbed chicken breast is a bit our parent’s generation of Saturday night cooking. But wow, it was so good.

New school in that our parent’s didn’t cook it: they cooked it from frozen. Or if they did cook it (which they didn’t), they didn’t cook it like this.

This is honest, wonderful, cooking. On all levels.

Cheese oozing. Ham and mustard. A contemporary breadcrumb.

Make it one of those Sunday nights where you make an outrageous potato gratin. Open a Pinot. Put the kids to bed.

And don’t think of Monday.

Ingredients

A little butter, for greasing
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tsp chopped fresh chives
4 very thin slices lean cooked leg ham
4 very thin slices Swiss cheese (or grated Gruyère)
1/2 cup plus 1 tsp all-purpose plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg
1 tbsp milk
1/4 cup fine, fresh breadcrumbs
1/4 tsp paprika

Method

Preheat the oven to 190c. Grease a baking dish with butter.

Split the chicken breasts horizontally to give two flatter pieces. Place each between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and use a meat mallet or rolling pin to flatten each chicken breast to a thickness of 5mm.

Spread each chicken breast with 1/2 tsp mustard and sprinkle each with 1 tsp chives. Cut ham and cheese slices to fit the chicken and top each chicken breast with ham and a cheese slice. Roll up, tucking the ends inside.

Place the flour in a shallow dish and season with salt and pepper. In a shallow bowl, combine the egg and milk, beating slightly.

Place breadcrumbs in another shallow dish. Coat chicken rolls in turn with flour, then egg mixture, then roll in crumbs. Place in the baking dish and sprinkle with paprika.

Bake for 25 – 30 minutes or until chicken is no longer pink in the middle.

Chicken and Lime Salad

Serves: 2

At a certain point over the Christmas/New Year break, all of us yearn for a culinary breather.

An end to the eggnog, ham and Champagne. A meal that isn’t 1,200+ calories (before the wine!).

Which is where – thankfully – this clever salad comes in.

Repent and enjoy.

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, poached and thinly sliced
1 Lebanese cucumber, diced
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
Juice of two small limes
1 red chilli, deseeded and sliced
2 tbsp fish sauce
2 tsp vegetable oil
2 tsp palm sugar
Chopped coriander
Lime wedges

Method

  1. Mix together the lime juice, chilli, fish sauce, oil and palm sugar and correct the flavours.
  2. Mix together the cucumber and tomatoes and arrange on plates. Arrange the sliced chicken over the vegetables.
  3. Spoon over the dressing, garnish with the coriander and serve with the lime wedges.