Two days and three nights in Orange

The town of Orange is three and a half hour’s drive north of where we live in Canberra. It has a pleasant climate, lots of good restaurants and is somewhere we’ve been meaning to visit for some time.

We recently booked a pet-friendly B & B, so we could take our golden retriever, Serek, and headed off for a long-overdue catch-up with friends who joined us from Sydney. The drive from Sydney to Orange, driving west, also takes about three and a half hours.

The first night we dined at the Peacock Room at the Oriana Motel. As we walked through the garden to the entrance we were greeted by the owner, a tall friendly Norwegian called Espen Harbitz, who has made his home in Orange. He invited us to make the most of the balmy summer weather and join some guests who were enjoying an aperitif at tables set out under the trees.

The meal was excellent, especially Espen’s Gravlax, so I emailed after we arrived home and asked if he was willing to share his recipe. He did so with alacrity. It’s the same as mine, but with one addition: a cup of Aquavit. So I ordered a side of salmon online from Huon Salmon (which has great colour and flavour) and a bottle of Aquavit from Nick’s Wine Merchants and the result was delicious.

To make Espen’s Gravlax follow my recipe but add a cup of Aquavit (or vodka) to the mixture of salt, sugar, pepper and dill used to cure the fish. In the photo below I served it with sweet mustard sauce (recipe is with the Gravlax recipe) and toasted sourdough, as an aperitif.

Next day we enjoyed an excellent lunch accompanied by superb wines at Sister’s Rock restaurant at the Borrodell Vineyard.

There are plenty of interesting things to do in the region, including a wander around the picturesque heritage town of Millthorpe and a visit to the Orange Botanic Gardens.

Dinner on our last evening was at The Schoolhouse restaurant in the old Union Bank building. Inspired by my light beetroot starter, I created the dish you can see in the photo below, using macadamia hummus as a base (use macadamias instead of cashews and soak them longer), topped with wedges of cooked and pickled beetroot, thin slivers of radish, a few toasted macadamia halves and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. A thin lengthwise slice of a home-grown zucchini (use a vegetable peeler), some parsley, a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a grind of pepper completed the plate.

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon

Our potato crop has just started so I put these delicious potato cakes on the menu for a light lunch last weekend. They originate in Scandinavia and when we were living in Copenhagen we ordered them quite often in restaurants.

They don’t contain any flour making them gluten free, which is good news for readers who avoid eating wheat and other grains.

500g potatoes
1 small onion, grated (optional)
1 egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive or vegetable oil to fry
To serve:
Smoked Salmon or Trout
Sour Cream
Snipped chives

Peel potatoes and coarsely grate by hand or using a 0.5cm attachment on your food processor, transferring to a large bowl of cold water as grated. Soak potatoes for a couple of minutes then drain well in a colander. Spread potatoes on a tea towel and roll up. Twist towel tightly over the sink, to remove as much liquid as possible.

Transfer grated potato to a bowl and mix in the grated onion (if using), egg, salt and pepper. Heat ¼ cup oil in a large nonstick frying pan over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Working in batches of four, spoon 2 tablespoons potato mixture per potato cake into frying pan, spreading into 3-inch rounds with a fork. Reduce heat to moderate and cook for 4-5 minutes, until undersides are browned. Turn over and cook for 4-5 minutes more. Transfer to paper towels to drain and season lightly with salt. Add more oil to pan as needed. Keep potato cakes warm on a wire rack over a shallow baking pan in a low oven. Leftovers can be reheated in a low oven.

Serve potato cakes with smoked salmon or trout, sour cream and chives and cracked pepper.

Makes 6-8 cakes serving 3-4

Gin-Cured Salmon with Kewpie Mayonnaise & Pickled Grapes

This delicious gin-cured salmon (inspired by a dish I had at one of our favourite Canberra eateries, Lambsheds) is great to have ready in the freezer for the holiday season, whether you’re living in the northern or southern hemisphere. It’s so easy to make and guaranteed to impress your guests. I buy the salmon from Costco because they do a great job of deboning, you don’t even have to check. This recipe is a variation on a traditional Gravlax.

Serve the salmon as a starter or light lunch, or on Chinese spoons, as appetisers. I’ve been collecting Chinese spoons from second-hand stores for some time and have well over fifty. When asked to bring a plate to an end of year gathering this is what I have been taking this year.

If you don’t have time to make the cured salmon, the recipe works well using plain raw salmon (top sashimi quality, remove any brown bits and slice thinly) with the kewpie mayonnaise and pickled grapes. Kewpie mayonnaise is a Japanese product available in most supermarkets. Juniper berries and pink peppercorns (which are actually not peppercorns at all) are available from specialty shops such as The Essential Ingredient.

The grapes in the photos are very small ones we grow ourselves, so I leave them whole. They are delicious with cured salmon, smoked salmon, or on oysters, with a sliver of spring onion, for those who don’t insist in eating them “au naturel”.

1 side of salmon (about 1kg), skinned and de-boned
1/3 cup each salt, sugar and gin
1 tsp pink peppercorns
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp juniper berries
2 tsp coriander seeds
Finely grated rind of 1 lime
To serve: 
Kewpie mayonnaise
Finely sliced spring onions or finely chopped onion
Pickled grapes (see below)
Baby cucumbers, sliced and halved (optional)
Pink peppercorns (optional)

Cut salmon in half across the middle of the fish. Place spices in a mortar and pestle and grind fairly finely. Place in a bowl with remaining ingredients and mix well. Spread about a third in a shallow glass dish, then place one piece of fish on top, then another third of the spice mix, the second piece of fish and remaining spice mix. Cover with plastic wrap or a plastic bag, then place a plate or a board on top and a couple of cans of tomatoes or whatever, to weigh it down. Refrigerate for 2-3 days, turning the fish once or twice.

Remove the salmon from the gin marinade, scrape off the spice mix and pat dry with paper towels. Wrap each piece in plastic wrap and freeze until needed.

To serve, slice salmon thinly and arrange on individual starter plates or Chinese spoons. Garnish with Kewpie mayonnaise, spring onions, baby cucumber (optional) and drained pickled grapes. If liked sprinkle with a few pink peppercorns.

Pickled grapes:
½ cup each water, white or cider vinegar and sugar
Black seedless grapes cut into halves or quarters, depending on size

Heat water, vinegar and sugar in a small saucepan until sugar has dissolved, then tip into a jam jar. Add grapes. The quantity varies, but they all need to be submerged in the liquid. Keep in the fridge.

Mushroom and Mustard Soup

This soup is one of our favourites. If you have wild mushrooms growing where you live and you know they are edible, then this is a perfect way to use them. If not just buy some mushrooms, preferably the larger ones which are dark underneath and have more flavour.

500g mushrooms
100g butter
600 ml chicken or vegetable stock
4 Tbs dry sherry
2 Tbs Dijon mustard
300 ml thick cream
Salt and pepper to taste

Do not wash or peel mushrooms, just wipe and chop roughly. Melt butter in heavy pan and allow to brown. Add mushrooms and cook for a few minutes, stirring. Add stock and sherry. Bring to the boil and add mustard.

When cool enough to handle, blend the soup in a blender or food processor. Add cream and adjust seasoning. Can be made ahead to this point. Reheat the soup and serve with a swirl of cream on top.

Serves 8

Roast Cauliflower with Cashew Hummus and Harissa Sauce

This recipe was inspired by a recent Master Chef programme. The contestant, Courtney Roulston, used cauliflower steaks or thick slices and the method was quite long. I’ve adapted it to use cauliflower florets and taken a few short cuts with the method. Despite these adjustments it’s still a somewhat long-winded recipe, compared with the ones I usually put on this blog. But it’s worth it and most of the elements can be made ahead of time.

Courtney called the sauce Cashew Tarator, but it’s really just Hummus made with cashew nuts and a slice of bread, instead of chickpeas. She used raw cashews. I only had salted ones, but the salt washes off when you soak them.

The chickpeas were rolled in flour, deep fried until crunchy and used a garnish. Mine didn’t go crunchy, so when I made the recipe a second time I roasted them with the cauliflower.

To speed things up you could use bought Hummus instead of the Cashew Hummus, a bought sun dried tomato dip instead of the Harissa sauce (add some chilli sauce to perk it up a bit) and Dukkah instead of the Spiced Seeds.

Any leftover cashew hummus and harissa sauce make a delicious dip, either separately or together. Just dollop them into a bowl and swirl them together a bit. Serve with corn chips, pita bread or veggie sticks.

Cauliflower:
1 large cauliflower, cut into 3cm florets
2-3 Tbs olive oil
1 tsp cumin powder
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1-2 tsp salt
2 Tbs lemon juice
Cashew Hummus:
1 cup cashew nuts
1 slice sourdough bread, crusts removed
1 heaped Tbs Tahini
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp maple syrup
1 clove garlic
½ tsp cumin powder
1/3 cup cold water
Salt to taste
Harissa Sauce: 
1 large red capsicum
1 large or 2 medium tomatoes
3 long red chillies, seeded and chopped
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp caraway seeds (I substituted fennel)
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 tsp maple syrup
2 tsp vinegar
Salt to taste
Spiced seeds:
2 tsp pistachios
2 tsp sesame seeds
1 tsp sunflower kernels
½ tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp sumac
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Garnish:
Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Cauliflower: Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a shallow baking sheet with baking paper. Place cauliflower in a bowl with remaining ingredients except lemon juice. Mix well then spread out on the tray in a single layer. Roast for 20-30 mins, turning halfway through, or until cauliflower is cooked and slightly browned. Remove from the oven, arrange on 4 serving plates (or one large one) and drizzle with the lemon juice.

Hummus: cover cashew nuts with warm water in a small bowl and bread with cold water in another bowl. Leave the bread for about 10 mins, then squeeze out water. Leave the nuts for 20-30 mins then drain. Place nuts and bread in food processor with remaining ingredients and mix till smooth. Add a touch more water if it’s too stiff. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for 3-4 days.

Harissa Sauce: Roast the capsicum over a gas flame or BBQ until blackened, then place in a plastic bag and leave until cool when it should be easy to peel, remove seeds and chop. Cover tomato with boiling water, drain after a minute, run under cold water and peel. Place cumin and caraway or fennel seeds in a frying pan and stir over medium heat for a minute or two, until fragrant. Add oil, capsicum, tomato and chillies. Cook, stirring, for 3-5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients, cook for a couple of minutes, then cool a bit before pureeing in food processor. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for 3-4 days.

Spiced Seeds: place pistachios and seeds in a small frying pan over moderate heat and toast, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until the sesame seeds start to colour. Place in a mortar and pestle, add sumac, salt and pepper and grind a bit, leaving the pistachios quite chunky. Can be made ahead and kept refrigerated for a week or two.

Place a dollop of Cashew Hummus on top of each serving of cauliflower, dollop some of the Harissa Sauce around, sprinkle with Spiced Seeds and pomegranate kernels, if using. Drizzle with a little Extra Virgin olive oil.

Serves 4 as a light meal or 6-8 as a starter

 

 

 

Foie Gras with Rocket, Beetroot & Caramelised Onions

Whenever we’re In France I buy a few tins of Bloc de Foie Gras de Canard. We declare them as we go through Customs and have never any problems getting them into Australia. Saved for special occasions, six cans last us a year or more.

This salad makes a light lunch or a substantial starter and is a good way to make one can of foie gras serve four or even six at a pinch.

1 can (150g) bloc de foie gras de canard
2-3 small beetroot
1 large onion, halved then thinly sliced
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
4 handfuls rocket, washed and spun dry
Salad dressing
2 Tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
To serve:
Hot buttered toast

Preheat oven to 180°C. Peel beetroot, then thinly slice using a mandolin or slicing attachment on food processor. Mix about 30 slices with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt and arrange on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Place in the oven and immediately turn temperature down to 100°C. Cook until they are crisp. This shouldn’t take long as they are so thin, but keep an eye on them.

Heat a Tbs oil in a frying pan and cook the onion for 15 mins over low heat until soft but not brown, stirring often. Add balsamic and continue to cook for a few minutes until caramelised. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the pan. Cut the rest of the beetroot slices into julienne strips. Heat a Tbs oil in the frying pan and stir fry the beetroot for 10 mins or until al dente. Cool.

Mix rocket with a little salad dressing or some oil and vinegar and arrange on four serving plates. Divide the onion between the plates, then the stir-fried beetroot (you may not need it all) and the beetroot crisps.

Divide the foie gras, cut into thin slices, between the plates, top with a few toasted pine nuts, then drizzle a little oil around the edge of each plate. Serve with hot buttered toast.

Serves 4

Variations: instead of beetroot use fresh or dried figs, or marinated/preserved figs; instead of pine nuts use walnuts or pecans.

 

 

French Onion Soup

When our kids were 5, 8 and 11 we took long service leave, rented a chalet in the French Alps and skied for three months.

Timewise it fitted in perfectly between a posting in Malaysia and a posting in South Africa. We bought a car in London after spending Xmas with my family and drove over, packed to the gunnels with ski gear. Our chalet was on the outskirts of Megève – large and comfortable with an open fire.

The kids had left school in Kuala Lumpur just before Christmas and  were due to start in Pretoria after Easter. We were worried they might get behind, but two adults playing schools with three children for a couple of hours each day meant they got ahead.

They had never been on skis, but by the time we left, they skied like demons, leaving us behind. When we were snowed in for a few days we played Monopoly, Scrabble and Mastermind. When large blocks of ice fell off the roof the kids built an igloo, with a little help from Matthew. We went ice skating and watched the annual husky dog races. Everyone has fond memories of that holiday.

Five year old David fell in love with snails. When we were back in Australia later that year he asked the waiter in a Pizza Hut “Do you have escargots?”  The waiter, looking somewhat puzzled, said: “What mate? We’ve got pizzas and salads here mate.”

Most days we had lunch in the chalet: deux baguettes with a selection of cheeses, cold meats and patés. Occasionally we stopped for lunch on the ski slopes, where onion soup was invariably on the menu.

1½ kilos onions, halved then thinly sliced
60g butter and 1 Tbs oil
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs flour
2 litres beef or chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
12-16 slices French bread sliced 2 cm thick
300g coarsely grated Gruyere or Emmental cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 Tbs dry sherry or brandy

In a large saucepan, cook onions in butter and oil over low heat, stirring often and with a lid for about 15 mins, or until soft. Best to use a heavy-bottomed non-stick pan as there is a tendency to stick with this recipe.

Add sugar and salt and raise the heat to moderate. Cook for 30-40 mins, stirring often, or until deep golden brown. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add stock and wine slowly, stirring. Simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes. Cool then refrigerate until ready to serve – preferably overnight. Reheat, add sherry or brandy and salt and pepper to taste.

Top bread slices with grated cheese and grill until golden and cheese is bubbling. Ladle soup into bowls and place one or two slices of bread on each serving.

Serves 6-8

Asparagus with Caper & Egg Dressing

Asparagus is delicious served hot with melted butter or cold with mayonnaise. This sauce goes a step further, being a Hollandaise sauce with a few extra additions. The sauce also goes well with ham or poached eggs.

4 egg yolks
4 Tbs white wine vinegar
2 Tbs water
1 tsp hot English mustard
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp smoked paprika
2 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped
100ml cream
2 Tbs capers, drained and chopped
2 Tbs finely chopped parsley
5 or 6 asparagus spears per person
Extra parsley leaves and Extra Virgin Olive oil to garnish

Place egg yolks, vinegar, water, mustard, salt and paprika in the top of a double boiler, or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Using electric beaters, whisk the sauce until it doubles in volume. Remove from the heat and fold in the hard boiled eggs, cream, capers and parsley.

Meanwhile, cook the asparagus in shallow boiling water in a frying pan, for 4-5 mins or until al dente. Drain on paper towels.

Serve the sauce warm over the asparagus. Any leftover sauce goes well cold with ham or cold asparagus.

Serves 4-6

 

Burrata with Rockmelon

The Fine Food Fair was on at the Convention Centre in Sydney last month. It runs over 4 days every September and alternates between Sydney and Melbourne.

That’s Amore Cheese makes Italian-style cheeses in Thomastown Victoria. They had a stand at the Fine Food Fair, with a wonderful selection of their wares on display. The burrata was superb so I made a point of finding out where to buy it in Canberra where I live. It’s sold at the Mart Deli at the Fyshwick Markets and when I popped in just before closing time last Sunday they were selling everything with 25% off and there were just two pots of Burrata left. I bought them both.

Burrata is made from cow’s milk, rennet and cream and is a typical product of Murgia in the south of Italy. The outside consists of mozzarella, while the inside contains stracciatella and cream, giving it a delicious, soft texture.

Burrata goes well with fruit so I came up with this easy dish which combines it with rockmelon. It also goes well with:
  • Sliced tomatoes – use really flavoursome ones from your garden or farmer’s market – drizzle with Extra Virgin olive oil and garnish with basil leaves
  • Grilled figs – drizzle the figs with honey before grilling and serve with burrata as a starter or dessert
  • Grilled capsicums – drizzle with Extra Virgin olive oil and maybe some basil pesto

 

One Burrata cheese (125g net)
Melon balls (or substitute mango, peach or nectarine slices)
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic glaze
Finely shredded spring onion
Salt flakes and cracked black pepper
Crusty fresh bread to serve

Place cheese in the middle of serving plate then arrange remaining ingredients around it, as shown in the photo.

Serves 1 or 2 as a starter or snack

Salmon Tartare with Orange and Passionfruit

This starter, adapted from a recipe I found for smoked salmon, is delicious and light. If you’re a fan of sushi you won’t be put off by the idea of eating uncooked salmon. It really doesn’t taste raw, but you could always use smoked salmon or Gravlax instead of the raw fish.

The flavour combination of salmon, orange and passionfruit is a winner.

About 750g fresh salmon or salmon trout
2 cups fresh or bottled orange juice
1 tsp honey
Pulp from 4-5 passionfruit
2-3 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh dill
Pink Peppercorns

Remove skin then cut salmon into small bite-sized pieces. Refrigerate while you make the sauce. Sieve the orange juice to remove any pulp. You will need 2 cups after sieving. Place in a saucepan and boil to reduce to about two thirds of a cup. Place in a jam jar with the honey, passionfruit pulp, oil and seasonings and shake well. Adjust the amount of passionfruit pulp and oil to taste.

Mix half the dressing with the salmon then divide among the plates in a pile in the middle. Spoon additional dressing over and around the salmon then garnish with the dill and pink peppercorns. You may not need all the dressing.

Serves 6

Variation: to make a more substantial dish add some diced avocado and serve on a bed of lettuce or rocket leaves.

Note: so-called pink peppercorns are not peppercorns at all. They have a very special, slightly perfumed flavour and can be found in specialty cook shops such as The Essential Ingredient. They go well with any salmon dish.