Croque Monsieur

Serves: 4

The Croque Monsieur is is just one of the most classic sandwiches.

Though I had never had it with a glass of wine and a green leaf salad.

Turns out I’ve been doing wrong all these years.

Sitting in the sun with a wonderful Riesling, Nat and I toasted that this is what life was all about. A brilliant sandwich with the bubbling, golden gruyere, the ham, the sourdough and the bechamel.

One of the best Australian Rieslings.

I have a feeling we will pull this combination out many more times.

Life’s good.

Ingredients

8 slices of day-old sourdough bread
3 cups loosely packed (300gm) grated gruyere
8 slices of smoked ham

For the Bechamel Sauce

3 tbsp butter
4 tbsp plain flour
3 c milk
Freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Serve with a simple salad of greens: cos, radicchio, watercress and rocket and just some extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar, well seasoned.

Method

  1. Start with the Bechamel: melt the butter in a small saucepan over a low heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly until it starts to boil and finally thickens. Take off the heat, season and a pinch or two of nutmeg. Cool sufficiently that it is firm enough to spread.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oven to 200c. Place the 8 sourdough slices on a chopping board. Layer the Bechamel on each slice, spreading evenly edge-to-edge. Sprinkle the cheese equally over each, edge-to-edge.
  3. On 4 of the slices, layer 2 slices of ham and then place the remaining 4 slices on top, cheese-side up. Transfer to a baking tray and cook for 12 minutes or until golden: use the grill at the end if necessary.
Ham sandwiched between the two layers.
Voila.

Elizabeth David’s Onion Tart with Green Pea Sauce

Serves: 6

To mark the first day out of Sydney’s lockdown, we did a lengthy, Provincial French lunch.

Nat’s parents came over armed with Champagne and a cracking French red: and our great mate and builder, a man who finishes off all my half-arsed projects and kindly looks after the dogs when we are away.

(Only costs a case of beer or two for that service!)

There was a lot of talk about how I had butchered our big teak outdoor table with a belt sander, or the time I blew something else up.

Acknowledgement, I am not handy.

So I needed to prove that I had at least one passing skill (with laughter in the background about the time I broke a wheelbarrow or the time I installed a swimming pool upside down).

This tart was a wonderful starter and put the needle back in my court. Subtle, simple, elegant, the onions sweated for hours and hours.

Your guests will know a special afternoon is on the menu.

Maybe the addition of gruyere or bacon lardons would have added to it, though its simplicity is all you need to make the point.

The green pea sauce is a wonderful addition.

Even our mate conceded it made up for the poor table sanding job.

Note: I used store bought shortcrust pastry which worked fine. Also, I softened the onion as slowly as possible – 4+ hours – and I know that this makes such a difference if you have the time.

Ingredients

210gm plain flour
Pinch of salt
125gm unsalted butter, cubed
1 egg, lightly beaten
60gm butter, plus extra for greasing
1kg onions, thinly sliced
Sat and freshly ground pepper
6 egg yolks
300ml cream

Green Pea Sauce

20gm butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
500gm baby (frozen) peas
1 1/2 c chicken stock

Method

  1. To make their pastry, save the flour and salt. Chop the unsalted butter through the flour. Make a well in the centre and add 20 – 30mls of cold water and the egg.
  2. Carefully bring in the flour mixture from the outside until the dough comes roughly together. Push the dough outwards with the palm of your hand too roughly blend the butter – you should be able to see large streaks of butter in the dough. Shape into two discs and wrap in plastic film. Refrigerate for one hour.
  3. Meanwhile, melt the regular butter over a low heat. Add the onion to the butter. Stir until well combined.
  4. Cover and cook, stirring often, for 30 minutes or until soft and golden. (As per the absolutely genius Boathouse Snapper Pie, cooking the onions longer and slower is where the best tastes come from, though leave that to you.) Season and set aside to cool.
  5. Whist the egg yolks and cream in a bowl. Add the cooled onions and stir until combined.
  6. Heat your oven to 200c.
  7. Grease six 12cm fluted tart tins with removable bases or one 24cm flan tin.
  8. Roll the pastry out and line the prepared tins, trimming any excess. Place tins onto a baking tray, line each with baking paper, fill with baking beans all the way to the top and blind bake for 20 minutes.
  9. Remove the baking beans and paper, then return tunas to the oven for 5 to 10 minutes until the base is golden.
  10. Remove from the oven, turn the oven to 180c, fill the tart shell(s) with the onion mix and return to the oven.
  11. Cook for 25-35 minutes until golden on top and set. Remove from the oven.
  12. Meanwhile, to make the pea sauce, melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring until soft.
  13. Add the peas and stock. Bring to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 – 2 minutes or until the peas are just tender. Strain the peas, reserving the liquid.
  14. Put the peas and one cup of the reserved liquid into a food process and process until smooth, adding more liquid if required.

Mignonette (French Shallot) Vinaigrette for Oysters

Serves: 24 oysters (at least!)

Nat and I love oysters and one of our favourite things is to hit a great steak restaurant for lunch and kick it off with a dozen oysters and a bottle of Champagne.

Yum.

Personally, I always prefer a raw oyster and it needs to be small: a Sydney Rock Oyster or something small from Batemans Bay.

(Those Bluff Oysters from NZ are my worst nightmare!)

Sauce wise, I’ve had some compelling granitas and watermelon snows, though geez, you just can’t go past this classic sauce.

Make the sauce a few hours prior to allow the flavours to infuse, and when served, you have gone toe-to-toe with the best steak restaurants out there.

Ingredients

1 large shallot, peeled and finely diced
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
Freshly cracked pepper
Fresh raw oysters on the half shell
Champagne

Method

  1. Combine the shallot and red wine vinegar.
  2. Open the Champagne in preparation.
  3. Lightly pepper the oysters and serve each with a good dessertspoon of the sauce.

Neil Perry’s Chicken and Leek Pie

Serves: 4 – 6

I have written many times about my love of pies.

Though I have never typed up a chicken pie. Not because I haven’t cooked them and don’t necessarily love the very best of them: though I have never cooked one of the very best of them.

Until now.

Weeks into Sydney’s lockdown and it’s Father’s Day and knowing that both my father and my father-in-law love a pie as much as I do, I had to do a compassionate food run.

I needed a down-the-line, bloody good chicken pie.

Something that was honest and simple. To be served with a mash* and peas.

A celebration.

This is just that pie. Thanks Neil Perry as usual.

You can’t go wrong with leek slowly cooked in butter, though it is the thinly sliced chicken breast that wins here.

And smoked bacon.

Line your pie dish with pastry and then cover all with pastry and make it even more svelte.

It’s simple and that’s the point.

Happy Father’s Day.

(I have slightly adapted the recipe.)

Ingredients

30gm butter
2 small leeks, white part only, thinly sliced
6 rashers smoked bacon, chopped
3 chicken breast fillets, cut into thin strips
300ml cream
2 egg yolks
Salt and pepper
Sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, lightly beaten, for glazing

Method

  1. Melt the butter in a frying pan over a medium-low heat and cook the leeks until very sold and lightly golden, stirring occasionally. Transfer to a plate and set aside.
  2. Add the bacon to the pan and cook until lightly browned, remove and set aside. Add the chicken to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes until lightly browned, remove from pan and drain on paper towels.
  3. Wipe out the pan with paper towels. Return the leeks, bacon and chicken to the pan. Add the combined cream and yolks, stir over a low heat for 2 minutes and then season with salt and pepper, to taste, Transfer to a bowl to cool.
  4. Preheat the oven to 210C. And make a pie. You known how to do this right? Egg wash, prick the pastry to allow the steam to escape and bake for 30 minutes until the top is puffed and golden brown.
  5. Happy Father’s Day ladies. And gents.

* Use a ricer, plenty of butter and milk, well seasoned: and then add a finely chopped golden shallot.

Hubert’s Kimchi Gratin

Serves: 4

Every Saturday during this endless Sydney lockdown, we treat ourselves to a food kit from a Sydney restaurant.

We keep it local week one to support local business and then dial it up week two to support ourselves.

Restaurant Hubert is a brilliant French, Sydney institution. The chef is Daniel Pepperell.

Last week, we did their food kit and based on eight weeks of lockdown, it was the best we have had. The theatre of adding a link to their playlist, dimming the lights, decantering a cracking wine, putting the kids to bed… and then thoroughly enjoying a two course, absolutely cracking French meal.

Days blur into weeks, wines like these are starting to blur into days…

I could get used to this lockdown. (And I guess I am 😕.)

Anyway, this kimchi gratin was a pearler. We merely heated it, though here is the recipe and as an alternative to a potato gratin, wow it’s great. Sure, there are plenty of cabbage gratins out there, though this is the one I am typing.

Give it a go. Steak, fish, just give it a go.

Ingredients

2 tbsp olive oil
1kg onions, thinly sliced
500gm cabbage kimchi, thinly sliced
200ml pouring cream
20gm panko crumbs
100gm finely grated Gruyère cheese
Finely grated Parmesan to serve
15gm butter

Method

  1. Heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat and sauté onions, stirring often, until softened and lightly caramelised: about 25 – 30 minutes.
  2. Add the kimchi and cook, stirring occasionally until warmed through: about 5 minutes. Add the cream and reduce until the mixture thickens slightly: about 3 – 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Whilst warm but not hot, stir in 3/4 of the Gruyère and transfer to a baking dish or individual shallow gratin dishes.
  3. Heat grill to high. Combine panko crumbs and remaining Gruyère and Parmesan in a bowl, then sprinkle evenly over kimchi, dot with butter, then grill until gratin is golden and bubbling: 2 – 4 minutes, Serve hot.

Gordon Ramsay’s Pan-fried Sea Trout, Peas & Chorizo Fricassée

Serves: 2

This is simply a great, 1-hat bistro lunch.

Nat took a day of work – as we all really need to do during this endless Sydney lockdown – and presented this with a glass of Krinklewood Verdelho (if in the Hunter Valley, visit their vineyard: it is wonderful as are the wines) and as we sat in the sun, we agreed that it was moments like these that made the long weeks and routine bearable.

The fricassée gives the dish a rustic, moorish backbone – chorizo, potato, paprika and peas – and the warm caper dressing just finishes it.

We have never cooked a disappointing Gordon Ramsay recipe and this lunch just continued that tradition.

This dish would be perfect for any Saturday lunch though my pro tip: have it on Monday and beat the lockdown!

And vino of course!

Ingredients

2 fillets of sea/ocean trout (or use salmon)
2 tbsp butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, halved

For the fricassée

100gm cured chorizo (1 small chorizo), diced
350gm waxy potatoes (we used kipflers)
Large pinch sweet smoked paprika
125ml fresh chicken stock
150gm cooked peas

For the warm caper dressing

3 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp small capers, drained
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Small bunch tarragon, chopped

Method

  1. For the dressing: Heat 1 tbsp of the oil in a small saucepan. Add the capers as well as the onion and cook for 3 minutes until softened. Add red wine vinegar and cook down until evaporated. Add in the rest of the oil plus the tarragon and leave to infuse.
  2. For the fricassee: heat the oil in a saute pan, add the chorizo and fry for two minutes until crisp and the red oil has rendered out. Add the potatoes and paprika and cook for 5 minute until the chorizo is starting to get browned edges.
  3. Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil; and then simmer for 10 minutes or until the stock has evaporated and the potatoes are tender. Stir in the peas and cook for another two minutes. Set aside and keep warm.
  4. For the fish: Score the skin of the trout and season generously.
  5. Heat the butter inside a non-stick frying pan. When it begins to sizzle. cook the fish skin-side down. Gently fry for 8 minutes until the skin is crisp and golden and the fish on its way to being cooked.
  6. Turn the fish and squeeze over the juice of half a lemon, basting the fish with all the lemony pan juice for a 1 minute whilst it cooks. Set aside in the pan.
  7. To plate: Spoon a pile of the fricassee into the centre of each plate. Gentley sit the fish on-top, skin side up (if using). Spoon the caper dressing around the outside and serve.

Justin North’s Blue Eye and King Prawn Bourride

Serves: 4

I first tried Justin North’s food at Becasse, a totally insane 25-seat restaurant in the top floor of the new Westfield Sydney.

I recall the first dish I ever tried being something like a parakeet egg with volcanic ash and citric something and from there, the crazy show rolled on. A waiter tapped a triangle as the first dish was presented. (I’m not kidding or more the clearer about what it all meant.)

I only ever ate at Becasse – maybe three times – with a great client and friend Paul and it was the food and theatre plus the sheer over-the-top plating that amused and impressed us so much.

Wine plus this theatre went to much laughter.

North’s food empire – which employed 180 people at its peak – collapsed as sadly they all do, though bloody credit. This man can cook.

Think genius.

My mother shared this recipe with me and it is unquestionably 2-hat.

It is breakthrough stuff like where you’re at a running race with your kids and that freak headed for the Olympics is also in the race. Love ya son, though who the hell is that kid that just clocked in 11 seconds flat?

That’s this dish, out of the blocks – wow.

We had the bourride with a wonderful green salad and thus far in this never ending Sydney lockdown, the bourride wins gold. (And don’t think we’re not trying to give the cooking a nudge!)

Just, bloody wow.

Ingredients

Herb dressing

1/2 cup basil leaves
1/2 cup coriander leaves
1/2 cup chervil (or parsley if you absolutely must)
2 – 3 tbsp olive oil
Pinch of sea salt flakes

For the bourride

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
2 cloves garlic sliced
1 c sliced brown onion
1/2 c sliced fennel
Pinch of sea salt flakes
Pinch of saffron threads
1 c chopped ripe juicy tomatoes
1 strip orange peel
1/2 large chilli
1 c white wine
2 c fish stock
4 x 80gm blue eye fillets (skinned, pinned etc)
12 large king prawns (heads and tails removed)

To finish

1 cup mixed baby herbs such as coriander and basil

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c. Heat the olive oil in a oven proof casserole dish. Add the seeds, garlic, onion, fennel, salt, saffron and cook gently over a medium heat for 8 – 10 minutes until the vegetables are soft, juicy and aromatic.
  2. Add the tomatoes, orange peel, chilli and white wine and continue to cook for a few minutes until pulpy, then add the fish stock, bring to the boil and add the fish fillets and prawns, season with a pinch of salt flakes, cover with a lid and place in the oven for 5 minutes to cook the fish and prawns.
  3. Remove from the over, take the seafood out of the pan and blitz the pulpy sauce for a few seconds to a rustic chunky saucy consistency.
  4. To finish: Spoon the bourride sauce into warm serving bowls, top with the seafood, drizzle over the herb dressing and decorate with the baby herbs and serve.

Gary Rhodes’ Fillet of John Dory and Raisin and Thyme Onions and Bigarade Mashed Potatoes

Serves: 4

This is French bistro at its best.

Such a wholesome, satisfying dish: you’ll be grinning at the end of the meal.

With a good bottle of white as we did, hard to fault this.

The potatoes are called bigarade which in French refers to a bitter orange known as the Seville orange. I susbstituted and it worked well: the absolutely subtle citrus flavour adds just another twist and it pairs perfectly.

Bon appetit!

Ingredients

3 onions, sliced
3 shallots, sliced
50gm raisins
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbs olive oil
1 scant tsp thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Flour, for dusting
4 x John Dory fillets, each approximately 175gm and skinned
2 tbsp canola oil
Large knob of butter

For the potatoes

675gm flourly potatoes, peeled and quartered
50gm butter
Sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper
150ml crème fraîche
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 (Seville) oranges
1 tsp caster sugar

Method

  1. Boil the potatoes in salted water, approximately 20 – 25 minutes, before draining off the water. The potatoes can now be mashed, adding the butter a little at a time, along with the crème fraîche. Season with the salt and white pepper. (Can I make the quick point that if you are not mashing your potatoes with a ricer, you are strongly encouraged to do so. Perfect mash every time!)
  2. Boil together the orange zest and juice, allowing it to reduce by at least three quarters. Add the caster sugar, stirring the juice into the potatoes which can be rewarmed just before serving.
  3. While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the onions and shallots. Blanch the onion and shallot slices in boiling water for just 15 minutes, then drain in a colander. This softens both, allowing them to be stewed with the olive oil and thyme, rather than fried.
  4. Place the raisins, sherry vinegar and brown sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer then remove from the heat, cover and leave to one side. This opens up the raisins, releasing their quite strong flavour.
  5. Pour the olive oil into a saucepan and add the blanched onions, shallots and thyme leaves. Cook over a low heat for at least 15 – 20 minutes, until completely softened. Add the sherry vinegar and raisins and season. Continue to cook for a further 5 – 10 minutes, until all the flavours have combined.
  6. Lightly flour the fish and season each with a pinch of salt. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Once hot, place the fish in the pans. Season the fish again. Fry for 3 minutes, until golden brown. Add the knob of butter and continue to fry for a further minute, then turn the fish over. Cook for just 1 more minute and then off the heat. The residual heat of the pan will continue to fry the fish for at least 2 – 3 minutes, providing enough time to plate the garnishes.
  7. Present the raising onions and bigarade mashed potatoes side by side on the plates, then place the John Dory fillets on top of the onions. Any remaining butter in the pan is then spooned over the fish.

Gary Rhodes’ Puff Pastry Scrambled Eggs and Leeks with Ham Crème Fraîche

Serves: 4

Many years ago – like 25 – my mother and I would watch Gary Rhodes and his British cooking show.

Rhodes, Gary (crop).jpg
A wonderful guy, a brilliant chef.

He was not only an incredibly talented chef, though came across as a lovely, calm and collected guy.

Sadly, he died prematurely in 2019 though I remember the tributes at the time from people such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver. One quote from the time from Michelin star chef Tom Kerridge described Rhodes as “one of the greatest British chefs who almost single handedly put British food on the world stage”.

My goodness.

All those years ago, my mother bought his two books and we cooked a number of his dishes. Just wonderful, wonderful French cooking.

Twently years later, I am telling Nat about Mr Rhodes and the wonderful books I used to cook from, long out of print of course.

Unbenowst to me, Nat tracks them down in a second hand book store (this is the sort of person Nat is!) and we are back in business.

Five weeks into lockdown in Sydney, Nat and I agreed we needed a break. Home schooling, work, renovating an apartment for sale, endless activities to entertain the kids, endless loops around the park to keep sane, we needed some time for ourselves.

So we took Wednesday off. I lit the outdoor firepit and put the Champagne on ice.

And served this decadent dish as the first course.

My lordy it is fine. Absolute dinner party material.

I said to Nat it reminded me of the food I ate in Chartres (France) many years back. Delicate, so tasty, so bloody good.

Update from my mother. This is me on the far right in Chartres. Haven’t changed a bit.

To say that we had the best afternoon since lockdown would be an understatement. And I can assure you that this starter (along with a cold Champagne) was a strong contributing reason for it!

Ingredients

225gm puff pastry
Flour for dusting
50gm butter plus two large knobs for cooking
5 eggs
1 large or 2 small leeks
3 or 4 thick slices of leg ham
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
6 tbsp vegetable stock
3 tbsp crème fraîche
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Champagne for serving!

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Cut 2 10cm x 10cm squares of puff pastry and then cut them diagonally in half to make four triangles. Beat one of the eggs and use to brush the pastries, and bake in the over for 20 – 25 minutes until risen and golden brown. Remove the tray from the oven and set the pastries to one side.
  3. Split the leeks in half lengthways, removing the outer layer. Finely slice the halves, washing off any grit in a colander. Leave the leek slices to drain.
  4. To make the ham crème fraîche, cut the ham into a 5mm dice and set aside. Heat the white wine vinegar in a saucepan. Once almost all evaporated, add the stock and simmer until reduced by a third. Whisk in the crème fraîch, followed by the measured butter. Season.
  5. Cut through the pastries, separated the risen lid from the base. Keep the pastry tops and bases warm.
  6. Melt a knob of butter in a large saucepan and once bubbling, add the leeks. Cook on a medium heat, stirring from time to time to ensure an even cooking, for 5 – 7 minutes, until very tender.
  7. Whilst the leeks are cooking, add the remaining eggs to the one used as an egg wash, beating with a fork to emulsify. In another saucepan, melt the remaining knob of butter and once bubbling, add the eggs. Season. As they cook, turn the eggs with a spoon reasonably vigorously, capturing every corner of the pan. When they have reached a very soft, scrambled consistency, remove the pan from the heat. This leaves you with just a minute to ‘build’ the rest of the dish while the scrambled egg thickens.
  8. Add the ham to the sauce, warming it through. Place the pastry bases on warm plates and spoon the cooked leeks loosely on top of each. Turn the scrambled eggs just once more, then spoon on top of the leeks and drizzle the ham crème fraîche around and over. Finish by placing the pastry lids on top.

Rick Stein’s Lightly Curried Crab Mayonnaise with Lamb’s Lettuce

Serves: 4

We’ve booked our first holiday since the the government announced we could travel within the state: Rick Stein’s Bannisters at Port Stephens.

And we’re excited for plenty of reasons.

It is out first holiday since February. And we love holidays.

It’s Bannisters. We have loved staying at the two Bannisters at Mollymook and based on recommendations from friends, Port Stephens is just excellent.

We’re leaving the kids in Sydney. Love ya kiddies, though don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

And finally… Rick Stein. Enough said.

Obviously, first thing we did after booking the room was to book the restaurant. Because you just can’t beat Rick Stein at his best: fresh seafood, simplicity, from Indian to French.

So, for lunch today we chose a Rick Stein theme and kicked off with this number.

I was a little suspicious because a quick scan of the ingredients tells you it is possibly a little too simple, though the incredible simplicity is the point.

As we ate it, we couldn’t stop talking about just how wonderful it was. How simple, how French.

You could do a whole lot worse than whipping this up as a quick Saturday lunch. Or as a starter to a longer weekend lunch.

Ingredients

3 – 4 truss tomatoes
5 tbsp whole egg mayonnaise
1/2 tsp mild curry powder
1/2 tsp lemon juice
2 dashes Tabasco sauce
500gm fresh white crabmeat
50gm lamb’s lettuce (I used Cos though much closer substitute is baby spinach)
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Fresh wholemeal bread, to serve

Method

  1. Skin the tomatoes by plunging them into boiling water for 20 seconds. As soon as the skins split, remove and cover with cold water to prevent further cooking. Peel off the skins, slice off the top and bottom and slice thinly.
  1. Put the mayonnaise in a bowl and stir in the curry powder, lemon juice and Tabasco. Fold this mixture lightly through the crab meat and season with a little salt.
  1. Overlap a few slices of tomato into the centre of 4 small plates and season them lightly with salt. Spoon some of the crab mayonnaise on top. Toss the lamb’s lettuce (or substitute) with the olive oil and a small pinch of salt and pile alongside.
  1. A crack of pepper and serve with some wholemeal bread.