Thursday, November 19, 2009

The West Austn: Taking the stress out of the big day

Top cooks and chefs offer advice for a fuss-free Christmas feast.

There's no point fighting it - Christmas is almost on us. But before you hit the panic button, here are some tips to help you survive it.

According to those in the know, being organised and planning ahead are sure-fire ways to guarantee a stress-free feast on the big day.

Start by pre-ordering the food you expect to eat over the festive period, said Tyrone Hinds, owner-chef of Attivo in North Beach.

"For example, I've just pre-ordered half a leg of ham from my local butcher and organised collection a day or two prior to Christmas," he said.

"Most people don't know this but a lot of the time suppliers will have food in their fridges well ahead of Christmas, such as smoked products and hams that are vacuum packed, and keep in the fridge for a long time.

"I will be doing exactly the same with my turkey - pre-ordering in advance and having it delivered the day before. That takes a lot of the stress and pressure out of it."

TV chef Anna Gare's best advice for a smooth Christmas in the kitchen was to 'delegate, delegate, delegate'.

"First of all, try to make as much as you can the day before so you can enjoy Christmas too," she said.

"Prepare cold food on Christmas Eve so that when you wake up in the morning, you can relax. I always do at least one moulded salad because they're fun and you don't need to put them together on the day.

"You can make a potato, chickpea or roast vegetable moulded salad by lining a bowl with plastic, placing all the vegetables in it nicely and putting a weight on it overnight to turn over the next day.

"Sometimes I do a beautiful fillet of beef with herbs and spices and that's just gorgeous cold. Cold meat is always good. Or cook something that can be done in two minutes on the day, such as scallops. Seafood is great because it's so quick. Having lots of yummy bits and pieces in the fridge is also handy so that when people come over, you can just pull them out.

"Share the responsibility. Pick a theme, such as traditional English or another cuisine. Or even a barbecue theme, where everybody brings something they've marinated.

"Then get everyone to bring a dish so you can all have a beautiful, relaxing day."

Once the big day is over, the next challenge begins - storing all those leftovers in the family fridge.

"A lot of people have hygiene problems storing their food during the Christmas period," Hinds said.

"A little tip I could offer, especially regarding storing seafood in their fridge, which is generally overloaded or getting full, would be to use ice cooler bricks. Once you've bought your fresh fish, you can cover it and put cooler bricks on top to keep it extra cold. This will help maintain the quality and the freshness as well as extending the life-span of the fish."

He said that the half ham he had ordered this year would be easy to store in the fridge.

"There is no reason why, a few days after Christmas, you can't go back to the place where you purchased the ham from and order another half ham if you haven't had enough.

"Don't get all your ingredients now and have the worry and stress of storing it. Buy what you need now for Christmas and then restock afterwards.

"It's only one meal and leftovers will last the next day. Then the shops will open again."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Buzz Now: Azure Review

After toiling along the busy main drag in Mount Hawthorn, the soothing ambience at Azure provided such a tranquil embrace we felt we had just wandered into an upmarket day spa by mistake. The wait-staff were beautifully attired and exuded an air of calmness and authority: we immediately felt we were in safe hands. Clearly, chef and owner Christian Fogliani takes great pride in his restaurant/patisserie, with love and attention lavished upon every detail.

The menu has its roots in Italy, with several additions provided for choice. The porcini mushroom risotto was large and hearty, and the rice had just the right amount of bite. My dish of pork belly and scallops served with swooshes of pear dressing and jus was just brilliant. The pork was meltingly tender and be-decked with thin ribbons of fat and golden crackling, while the sweet and savoury accompaniments matched well. Dessert was a tough one. All of the restaurant's sweets are cooked in-house in the adjoining patisserie and there is a vast array on display to tempt even the most savoury of palates. We went with a visually spectacular chocolate Black Forest dome filled with a white chocolate and cherry mousse, all housed in an elaborate chocolate basket. Truly blissful.

Link to BuzzNow

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The West Austn: Oceans awash with fine fare

Spring has sprung and the warmer weather is bringing with it a bumper harvest of seafood delights that are starting to peak now.

Australian oysters are sourced mainly from Ceduna and Coffin Bay in South Australia. They can be enjoyed either freshly shucked with a squirt of lemon or cooked, and there is a veritable panoply of ways to serve them: mornay, baked, deep-fried or grilled. And, as with all seafood, it is imperative to make sure oysters are as fresh as possible.

"When choosing your oysters, always look for a creamy flesh," says Josh Catalano of Seafood Secrets and MasterChef fame.

"There should be no discolouration or black spots."

TRY: Bloody Mary oyster shooters to give your dinner party that extra kick.

Rock Lobsters
If oysters were once the aphrodisiacs of the deep, then rock lobsters surely were the pharmacists. The Greeks and Romans treated snakebites, poor vision and high fevers with various parts of a rock lobster.

Nowadays, of course, they are renowned the world over for their sweet, succulent flesh. Our most popular, the western rock lobster, is caught along the coastline between Augusta and Shark Bay, and can be served half or whole, natural or in mornay. They are at their tastiest in late November and December - a perfect fit for the festive season.

"Look for a lovely red colour for best quality or, better still, buy them live." says Louis Lynch, from Seafresh Fish Markets.

TRY: Rock lobster medallions in a mango and dill salad.

Red Emperor
One of the jewels of the deep, a red emperor will give an angler looking for action a run for their money. It is a big fish, so buying one whole and grilling it on the barbecue should feed a family of four with ease.

"Red emperors are a particularly good eating fish at this time of year because they are gaining weight in preparation for the spawning season ahead," says Mr Lynch.

An extremely popular finfish, it can be served whole or, if you're limited for oven space, the firm white flesh can be filleted and steamed, baked or deep-fried.

"Always look for a red emperor with clear eyes, red gills and firm flesh that springs back when pressed," says Mr Catalano.

"And it shouldn't smell like fish, either".

TRY: Baked whole, smothered with fresh herbs and preserved lemon.

Mussel farming dates as far back as the 13th century, and many a happy childhood was spent fossicking for the delicious morsels in local rock pools.

Mussels are cholesterol-free, high in protein, inexpensive and have more Omega 3 than any other shellfish. At this time of year, they're also well on their way to becoming plump and juicy, so it is a perfect time to buy.

"When buying your blue mussels, they should generally be closed." says Bruno Bini, from South Perth Seafoods.

"The shell should have a nice blue shiny colour, and they should feel heavy. There should just be the scent of the salt from the ocean, nothing more."

TRY: Steamed mussels with thyme, leek and white wine.

Blue swimmer crabs are beginning to peak this month and, with their ocean home being just a stone's throw away, their freshness is almost certainly guaranteed.

Crabmeat has a sweet, delicate flavour and can be cooked in myriad ways, from resplendent in its own natural glory to delicious parcels of crab-filled tortellini or ravioli.

"A crab should feel heavy, just pick one up and see," says Damien Bell, a commercial fisherman from the Peel-Harvey Estuary Crab Fishery.

"Raw green crabs should always be bought within 24 hours of being caught."

TRY: Stir-fry chilli crab with coriander and jasmine rice.

Link to Fresh, The West Australian, Nov 2009