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.

Bacon, Tomato, Comté, Cheddar, Spring Onion and Pickled Mustard Seeds Toasted Sandwich

Serves: 4

Already two late-night toasties down over the Christmas holidays, we decided to toast a third, closer to the classic “ham, tomato, cheese”.

However this recipe – from the excellent Chefs Eat Toasties Too – completely dials up the classic in a number of important ways.

Firstly, bacon.

🐖

Which, with all due respect to ham, is a clear checkmate move.

Then, there is the Comté (We substituted Gruyère) AND the cheddar.

Another checkmate, especially with the thinly sliced spring onions.

The real cracker however are the pickled mustard seeds which take the sandwich to restaurant-level.

You will forever look down on the ho-hum ham, tomato, cheese after toasting this late-night toastie.

Ingredients

8 slices white sandwich loaf
140gm unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp hot English mustard
12 cold-smoked bacon rashes, cooked
4 small ripe truss tomatoes, thinly sliced
Salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
160gm Comté (Gruyère), grated
100gm cheddar, grated
2 spring onions, white part only, thinly sliced

For the pickled mustard seeds

100gm yellow mustard seeds
50gm caster sugar
2 tsp salt flaked
150ml Chardonnay vinegar (we used white wine vinegar)

Method

For the pickled mustard seeds

  1. Place the mustard seeds in a small saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil then remove from the heat. Drain the seeds and discard the water. Refresh the seeds in cold water and return to the saucepan. Repeat the previous step three times and reserved the blanched seeds in a bowl or jug.
  2. Heat 75ml of water and the sugar in a saucepan over medium-low heat and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat, add the salt and stir until dissolved. Stir in the vinegar then strain the pickling liquid over the seeds. Place in the refrigerator, covered, for a minimum of 1 hour.
  3. The seeds will last for 2 months.

For the sandwich

  1. Butter four slices of bread and scrape a thin layer of English mustard on each slice. Place three rashes of bacon on each and add tomato slices on top and season with salt and pepper.
  2. Combine the grated cheeses in a bowl with the spring onion and evenly distribute this mixture on top of the tomato.
  3. Spread butter on the remaining slices of bread and spread the pickled mustard seeds on the other side. Close the sandwich with the buttered side of the bread on the outer.
  4. Toasted in a sandwich press, buttered sides on the hot grill, until golden brown and crispy.

Five-cheese and ham triple-decker toastie

Serves: 2

It’s Easter and we are on holidays on the beautiful South Coast of NSW.

A few unstructured days of walking along the beach, sleeping in and opening a Champagne every afternoon around 2.

(Even Max the 10-month old seems to be getting into it, sleeping in until 7.45 and then going back to bed with a bottle.)

With such a theme of relaxation and “who cares?”, it seemed appropriate to have this toastie one evening for dinner. A extraordinary toastie that on every level, tells you to sit down, shut up and just eat it.

For there are plenty of times for chicken breast and salad and abstaining from wine and life.

But Easter isn’t that time.

Which is why, right now, it’s five-cheese, toastie time and nobody here felt guilt or apologised for it*.

(The recipe is from the always reliable, Gourmet Traveller.)

Ingredients

200gm firm ricotta
75gm cheddar, coarsely grated
75gm provolone, coarsely grated
75gm Parmesan, finely grated
200gm buffalo mozzarella, thickly sliced
6 slices, pane di casa bread**
Dijon mustard
Leg ham slices, off the bone
40gm butter, diced

Method

  1. Preheat the oven to 180c.
  2. Stir the ricotta, cheddar, provolone, and Parmesan in a bowl to combine and season to taste. Spread two of the bread slices with the cheese mixture, then top each with another bread slice.
  3. Spread with mustard to taste, top with slices of ham and the mozzarella. Season to taste and sandwich with the remaining 2 slices of bread.
  4. Melt butter in a large, oven-proof frying pan over a medium heat, add sandwiches and fry until browned on the base: 1 – 2 minutes. Carefully turn over and brown the other side, then transfer in the pan to the oven and bake until the cheese is bubbling: 3 – 4 minutes.

Carefully remove from the oven and spoon the remaining butter in the pan over the top of the toasties and serve hot.

* Once you have done this sandwich, please try Matt Preston’s amazing toasted sandwich, something we unironically cooked one NYE evening!

** A rustic, thick crust white Italian bread cooked on a stone. Or try sourdough.

The Best Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves: 6

Where does one start?

Spaghetti Carbonara is that dish that divides more than any spaghetti dish. Cream or no cream?

Or mine is the best or that is the best?

This is the traditional or this one is even more traditional?

Or that Italians don’t even do Spaghetti Carbonara and it is an invention of the Americans: Italians don’t do pasta like this.

I don’t mind a cream-based Spaghetti Carbonara and how couldn’t you? Anything with pasta and cream – at its best – is amazing.

Though it isn’t traditional in the sense that I cannot find any pasta Italian cookbook of mine that asks for even a touch of cream.

Equally though, I can’t find a Carbonara in any of these books.

Which I think means that Carbonara definitely shouldn’t have cream though it probably isn’t an Italian invention either.

Which leaves us here: what is the best ‘traditional’ Carbonara recipe.

For 8 years straight until he was 18, for his birthday, my middle brother Adrian asked nothing else of me than that I cooked this pasta for his birthday.

This recipe was something my mother would do after a day on our boat and as kids, and it simply never failed to wow us.

After years and years of telling Nat this Carbonara was the best she would ever have, she finally let me make it.

And Nat – and the boys – agreed, this is simply the finest Carbonara that exists.

This truly is the best Spaghetti Carbonara you will ever cook.

And this is from someone that makes a point of ordering every time it is available.

THE BEST.

Ingredients

9 slices bacon, trimmed and julienne
6 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
5 tbsp butter
½ cup julienned ham (or prosciutto)
12 tbsp grated parmesan
6 eggs, beaten
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
Spaghetti

Method

  1. Brown the bacon and pour off any fat.
  2. Cook the spaghetti.
  3. Add the olive oil, butter and ham and saute for 5 minutes without browning.
  4. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan and beaten eggs, Place over the heat only to sufficiently to firm up the sauce.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and pour over the spaghetti.
  6. Serve with more grated Parmesan.

Maple and Mustard Glazed Ham

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You get an A+ for effort.

Serves: Plenty

Nat’s sister Courtney (of Japanese Bean fame) had her engagement party last week.

120 of her closest friends and family, waiters darting around with wine and food, a million candles and fairy lights and animated conversations made for a wonderful and memorable night: everything the beautiful couple deserved.

A big part of the evening’s success came from Courtney’s fastidious focus from spending several years as an Events organiser; spreadsheets, meticulous planning, an innate understanding of the relationship between the increasingly lateness of a night, wine and food.

So I was delegated the glazing of a 10kg ham. A ham destined for around midnight with hundreds of soft, and otherwise illegal breadrolls and a creamy, wholegrain mustard sauce.

A do-it-yourself station where sir or madam was encouraged to match the wine or beer in their hand with a roll or two.

Anyway, here is the simple and very effective glaze I did. A tablespoon or two of finely chopped rosemary would have been a nice addition, though start with this glaze and you’ll be onto a very good midnight thing.

Ingredients

5 – 10kg ham
1 cup maple syrup
4 tbsp brown sugar
4 tbsp seeded mustard
30 cloves

Method

  1. Heat the oven to 180c.
  2. Remove the skin from the ham, keeping as much fat on the flesh as possible. Discard the skin.
  3. Score the fat and pin a clove into each corner of a score, making a quilt pattern as you go.
  4. Mix together the maple syrup, brown sugar and seeded mustard and baste the ham all over the scored fat/flesh.

Muffuletta

Serves 6 – 8

I saw this incredible Italian sandwich being made by the always talented Giada De Laurentiis on her TV show a few years ago.

I prepared it for a date night with Nat – moonlight cinema – and prior, there was quite a bit of running around; for focaccia, once the hero bread of every café and sandwich, has largely disappeared from pretty much everywhere in Sydney.

I must have gone to half a dozen stores in Leichardt, all of whom said that they sold out early, every morning, mainly to nonnas who came in at dawn.

Given that each bite of this sandwich is like eating an antipasti platter, perhaps the elimination of the oily focaccia was a good thing, though I reckon it would have rounded out what is otherwise an extraordinary sandwich, if not one that is slightly daunting.

The traditional round bread I used was great however, though pull back a bit on the oil. After a night in the fridge compacting, you want to ensure that the bread doesn’t disintegrate as you try to work out how on earth you are going to get on a bite on your muffuletta.

This is your next adult picnic sorted.

Ingredients

¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 tsp dried oregano
1/3 cup olive oil
10 large pitted green olives, chopped
1/3 cup pitted, chopped kalamata olives
¼ cup chopped roasted red bell peppers
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (500gm) round bread loaf (about 18cm in diameter and 8cm high)
125gm thinly sliced ham
125gm thinly sliced mortadella
125gm thinly sliced salami
125gm sliced provolone
½ red onion, thinly sliced
Handful of rocket leaves

Method

  1. Whisk together the red wine vinegar, garlic and oregano together and then gradually blend in the oil. Stir in the olives and roasted peppers. Season the vinaigrette, to taste, with salt and pepper.
  2. Cut the top 2.5cm of the bread loaf. Set the top aside. Hollow out the bottom and top halves of the bread. Spread some of the olive and roasted pepper mix over the bread bottom and cut side of the bread top. Layer the meats and cheeses in the bread bottom. Top with the onions, then the rocket. Spread the remaining olive and roasted pepper mix on top of the sandwich and carefully cover with the bread top.
  3. You can serve the sandwich immediately or you can wrap the entire sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator a day before serving; if you can, place something on top of the muffuletta to weigh it down and further compact the ingredients.
  4. Cut the sandwich into wedges and serve.
  5. Go for a long run.

Spaghetti Carbonara

Serves: 4

Almost everyone claims to have an amazing pasta recipe in their repertoire.

Often, this is a Carbonara.

For me, Carbonara is the king of pastas, be it spaghetti, fettucine or farfalle. Indeed, it is very rare for me to go past a Carbonara in an Italian restaurant, especially when I know it will be one of those terrible though amazing cream-based numbers with enough calories to whack an elephant.

This recipe – originally from my mother – is one I have been cooking since I was a teenager. In fact, for as long as I can remember cooking, I have been doing this number.

It is perfect after a long day at the beach or shopping. Bottle of wine, something on TV and you will be in absolute heaven.

Ingredients

9 slices bacon, trimmed and julienned
6 tablespoons olive oil
5 tablespoons butter
½ c julienned ham or prosciutto
12 tbsp grated parmesan + extra to sprinkle
6 eggs, beaten
Salt and pepper
Spaghetti or other pasta

Method

  1. Cook the pasta.
  2. Brown the bacon and pour off any fat. Add the olive oil, butter and ham and sauté for 5 minutes without browning.
  3. Remove from the heat and stir in the parmesan and beaten eggs. Place over heat only sufficiently to firm up the sauce.
  4. Season with salt and pepper and pour over spaghetti.
  5. No regrets.