Monday, 27 December 2010

Cherries galore

Cherries are a tricky ingredient to work with – the major problem being that they are just so damned delicious fresh that I find it nearly impossible not to eat them all in the preparation stages!

I once lived in a rural house in Switzerland that had an enticing cherry orchard in the back yard. I would climb a tall ladder to pluck copious dark red bunches and fill one basket after another. Hours later I would clamber down, intoxicated with delight at the sight of my pickings. After most of the day spent up a tree my mind would be full of recipe ideas to experiment with but I was often too tired to cook my harvest. It was much easier to eat them immediately in all their glory.

A little further into cherry season when you’ve eaten a sufficient quantity then maybe it’s time to think about letting a few cherries make it into jam, cakes, puddings like pies and crumbles, and even some savoury fare, such as chutney or stuffing for chicken. Or perhaps douse them in brandy or a fruity liqueur and hide them away until winter.

With cooking, the only downside to a cherry obsession is the pitting process – beware as luscious plump cherries can splatter clothing (and often the walls) with their juices. Like deep-red cherry blood this forms a penetrating stain if left to set.

Choose cherries that are glossy, firm, fat and heavy for their size; this state indicates they have been left to grow fully and ripen on the tree. Mass and flavour are lost with early picking so cherries are best when voluptuously fleshy and yielding to the tongue.

I recommend buying at least twice as many cherries as called for in any recipe. This way you can work on the extremely satisfying, tried and true cooking method – one for me and one for the pot!

Chef’s tip: A cherry stoner is an essential culinary tool for any cherry addict as its use speeds up the otherwise laborious pitting process. A bonus is that this nifty gadget doubles as an olive stoner.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Yule love it...

Well, I can hardly believe that it’s that time of year again. Just when we all feel like winding down, we have to take one last breath and make it across the Yuletide finishing line.

For those of you who have taken on the responsibility of festive head chef, you have a vital and fun role. Here are some quick and easy but wonderfully festive recipes to help you rise to the challenge!
The only dilemma at Christmas is whether to go for the traditional Northern Hemisphere all-out turkey, pork, gravy and stuffing feast or a menu of seafood and salad to suit our summery climate and informal holiday mood. I like to have a bit of both – the tradition mixed with the casual – and that way it satisfies everyone.
Salmon is a superb fish to bake, plus a whole baked side of salmon makes a great centrepiece on any Christmas table. Salmon fillet is easy to prepare, easy to serve, and nicely sized, so it’s good for those catering for small numbers. To add something special and turn baked salmon into a truly festive dish, all you need to do is serve a delicious sauce on the side, such as Béarnaise sauce.

While turkey is my personal favourite festive meal, I don’t always want to deal with roasting a whole turkey on a hot summer’s day. So, this turkey salad is a clever option. I roast the turkey breasts the day before and then make up the salad just before it is needed – this makes life easy and leaves me plenty of time to relish the day’s festivities.

For informal Down-under summer celebrations at the beach or bach, you may opt to enjoy just this salad as the main event. But if you’re feeling really decadent, then this salad can be served as one component of a multi-course feast. However it works into your menu, I think you’ll find this festive salad captures some of the simple pleasures that infuse Christmas with magic and meaning.

Whatever you decide to cook on the day, enjoy preparing and sharing food with the people you love this Christmas.

Recipes copyright Julie Le Clerc 2010
All-in-one salads filled with lots of special ingredients are excellent summer Christmas fare.
Serves 8
1kg turkey breasts
olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
75g prosciutto
700g baby potatoes
4 spring onions, chopped
150g baby salad greens
1 cup podded broad beans (fresh or frozen)
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup dried cranberries
Dijon dressing:
2 tbsp quality balsamic vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Preheat oven to 200°C. Spray or brush turkey breasts with olive oil, season with salt and pepper all over and place in a roasting pan. Roast for 30 to 40 minutes, depending on size, or until the juices run clear. Remove from oven and set aside to cool.
2 At the same time, boil potatoes in salted water for 10 minutes or until tender. Drain well and set aside to cool. Place prosciutto on a baking tray and bake in the same oven as the turkey for 5 minutes until crisp. Remove to cool, then break into bite-sized pieces.
3 Slice cold turkey and place in a large salad bowl with cold potatoes, spring onions and salad greens. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl to combine then pour over salad. Toss well to coat and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.
4 Scatter salad with broad beans, pine nuts, dried cranberries and prosciutto and serve with watercress mayonnaise on the side.

Before starting to make mayonnaise, all ingredients should be at room temperature so that they emulsify easily.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
3 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup vegetable oil such as sunflower, canola or rice bran oil
1 cup firmly packed watercress leaves, coarsely chopped
1 Place egg yolks, salt, mustard and vinegar in the bowl of a food processor or in a bowl if making by hand. Process or whisk mixture until pale and foamy.
2 With the motor running, or while continuously whisking, add oils in a thin and steady stream until amalgamated into a thick mayonnaise.
3. Taste and adjust seasoning or add a little extra vinegar to taste, if necessary.
4 Store mayonnaise in the fridge with a covering of plastic wrap pressed onto its surface to prevent a skin forming. Lasts about 7-10 days if properly stored under refrigeration.

Recipe and photograph ©copyright Julie Le Clerc 2010