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Crazy About Caramel

Got a spare 5 minutes up your sleeve? That’s all you’ll need to make a perfect caramel sauce.

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I could watch this gooey, golden sauce being poured over chocolate cakes, fruits and tarts all day long, it’s a mesmerising sight to see. And it’s super simple. The most important thing to remember is to keep your eyes on the saucepan to avoid burning the sugar – burnt caramel tastes bitter and sticks to the bottom of your saucepan, which is no fun for anyone. Here’s how to make it:

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In a medium heavy saucepan, stir 1 cup caster sugar (superfine sugar) and 2 tablespoons water over medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until the sugar dissolves. Boil without stirring for about 5 minutes, or until it turns a deep golden brown colour and registers 200°C (390 °F) on a candy thermometer. Add 3 tablespoons thickened cream (heavy whipping cream) room temperature, and cook for about 30 seconds, or until the cream is slightly reduced.

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Remove the saucepan from the heat and whisk in 110g (4 oz) unsalted butter.

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Strain through a fine sieve. Cool slightly and mix in 1 teaspoon salt.

Serve as a dipping sauce alongside a Banana Soufflé, make Caramel Popcorn or Chocolate Salted Caramel Cashews, dunk churros or Ricotta Fritters in the sauce or pour over ice cream. There’s so many ways to use it, we’re lucky caramel is ‘in season’ all year round.

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How to Make Golden Raspberry Jam

Raspberries of any colour are so delicious and inspiring in the summertime. Golden raspberries are special because their unique colour brings a ray of sunshine to a plate and delight to friends’ faces. I often hear people say, “Yellow raspberries?! Never seen them before. Amazing.” And yes, they are an amazing gift from Mother Nature to be enjoyed all summer long.

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When I pick up a tray of them from the market, ideas come flooding into my head as to what I could do with these little bright fruits. How about a raspberry soufflé, a vinaigrette for a salad, or whipped cream… however, by the time I’ve finished daydreaming, I’ve usually polished off a punnet without taking a breath because they taste that good when freshly picked and in season.

For those times when you can hold onto them for more than five minutes though, making jam is always a delicious idea. Here’s how to make golden raspberry jam (of course, you can use red raspberries when you can’t find golden ones):

Yield: 2 cups 

Ingredients

  • 300g (11 ounces) golden raspberries
  • 120g (1/2 cup/4 ounces) sugar, divided
  • 6g (1 teaspoon) apple pectin*
  • 5ml (1 teaspoon) lemon juice

*Pectin is a powder that helps thicken jam and can be found in most grocery stores or online.

Method

  • In a medium bowl, combine the raspberries with half of the sugar and leave to macerate, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes, or until the raspberries have released liquid.
  • In a small saucepan, combine the macerated berries and cook over medium heat.
  • In a small bowl, combine the remaining sugar with the pectin. When the raspberry mixture comes to a boil, add the sugar-pectin mixture.
  • Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it reaches a temperature of 215°F (102°C). Note: you can find this out by using a candy thermometer.
  • Take the raspberries off heat and add the lemon juice. Pour the mixture into a clean, dry bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Allow the jam to cool to room temperature before refrigerating.

For a really delicious dessert, I tear homemade doughnuts or ricotta fritters in half and spoon in some golden raspberry jam. See below… need I say more? Seriously yum.

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Make Your Own Labneh Cheese

Labneh is a bright, fresh, soft cheese originating from the Middle East. I love it coz it’s healthy, spreadable, inexpensive and can be flavoured or spiced up anyway you desire. It’s tasty smeared on toasted ciabatta and topped with a fruity jam or chutney and crushed toasted walnuts – and I promise, that’s just the start of it. Check out some ideas below as to how you can best enjoy it.

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Here’s what you need:

  • 3 cups Greek yoghurt
  • 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Yield: approx 1.5 cups (but you can easily double or triple this recipe)

So the ingredients are easy done, now to the method:

a) Line a fine-meshed sieve with a double layer of muslin. In a small bowl, combine the yoghurt, lemon juice, and salt. Place the yoghurt mixture into the sieve and cover with more muslin. Set the sieve over a bowl to catch any drippings. Using a small plate and a large can, weigh down the yoghurt to press out the excess liquid. Refrigerate overnight.

b) Or for a thicker, cream-cheese like consistency, weigh down with a couple more plates and the can, then refrigerate for a full day.

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Here I’ve smeared plain labneh on the plate and topped it with a salad below.

If you’d like to infuse your cheese with lovely flavour, there’s a couple of ways to do it.

  • Pull the yoghurt out of the fridge and whisk it up with your favourite fresh or dried spices, herbs and salt and pepper. Serve in a bowl and finish with a nice flourish of olive oil. Serve with crudités and Grilled Garlic and Herb Flatbread.
  • Or, you can roll your cheese into small balls (when following the B method above), place in a jar one on top of the other and pour in a homemade flavoured oil (e.g. extra virgin olive oil, finely minced parsley and the zest of a lemon). Allow the cheese to marinate in the fridge for at least 8 hours. Remember that olive oil becomes cloudy and solidifies when refrigerated, but don’t fear: just bring to room temp and you’re oil will be silky smooth and golden again in about 20 minutes time. The jarred cheese should be good for about 2 weeks in the fridge.

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In Bloom at Maude

Food is king at Maude but the space in which our guests eat and drink is pretty special too. For us, there’s nothing that says ‘welcome’ more than lively and delicate flowers perched on the shelves, the countertop and placed on the little tables in the restroom – and plenty of beautifully arranged fresh and dried flowers are exactly what you’ll find at Maude. Just as our menu changes with the seasons, so does our choice of fresh flowers. If they’re bountiful and standing to attention at the flower market then you bet they’re coming back to the restaurant with our General Manager and Wine Director (and resident florist), Ben Aviram. Take a look at his handy work below.

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Look but do not eat! July was berry month at Maude and all kinds of varieties were threaded into each of the tasting plates but this raspberry bush was just too beautiful (and underripe) to eat.

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Dried flowers that hang from weathered wooden drying racks have become a signature design feature at the restaurant.

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Queen Anne’s Lace was first cultivated in Europe when Queen Anne reigned as Queen of England (1665-1714). It resembles delicate and pretty lace that’s fit for a queen and makes for a grand flower arrangement at Maude in the summertime.

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A Taste Of Summer: Heirloom Tomatoes

There’s nothing that says summer quite like a garden-grown tomato. Subtly sweet and juicy with just a hint of acidity, tomatoes seem to be a part of every plate throughout the season.

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In my garden, I grow organic heirloom tomatoes. Heirlooms have been pollinated openly by wind and bees. Unlike hybrid varieties, they grow from seed and have been cultivated for more than 50 years. They’re true-breeding plants, which means that every generation of an heirloom tomato has all the same characteristics of the original parent plant. It’s one of the reasons many people say heirloom tomatoes taste like the tomatoes they used to eat when they were young.

The flavour varies greatly between different varieties of heirloom tomatoes. Below are a few of the most common and some of my all-time favourites.

Brandywine

This classic tomato dates all the way back to the 1800s. It’s large with a red to purple flesh that’s juicy and super sweet. It’s often considered one of the best-tasting tomatoes around.

Green Zebra

A newer variety, the green zebra is a small round yellow heirloom with bold green stripes and dark green flesh. The flavour is a touch more tart than other varieties making it a beautiful option for a bright summer salad.

Costoluto Genovese

This bright red Italian heirloom has a distinctive ribbed appearance and a deep tomato flavour that works well in a fresh sauce.

Galinas

These bright yellow cherry tomatoes are a burst of sunshine. Sweet and full flavoured, they make the perfect snack just as they are.

Taste the beauty of these juicy gems in this Heirloom Tomato and Mozzarella Salad.

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Homemade Corn Chips

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Ever wondered how to make your very own golden and crunchy corn chips? Maybe not. But once I let you in on the secret to how easy they are to prepare, I know you’ll be reaching for corn tortillas and canola oil ready to give handmade chips a go. Really and truly, tortillas and oil are the only ingredients you’ll need, plus a little salt to taste. To make about 8 cups of corn chips, here’s what you do:

Add enough canola oil to a large heavy pot to reach a depth of about 7.5 centimetres (3 inches). Heat the oil over medium-high heat to 175°C (350°F). Meanwhile, tear each tortilla in half down the middle, and then tear those halves down the middle again.

Working in batches, cook the tortillas in the hot oil, stirring nearly constantly with a spider, for about 3 minutes, or until the chips are golden and crispy. Use the spider to remove the chips from the oil and transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Season immediately with salt to taste. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

The chips will last up to 3 days stored in an airtight container at room temperature. You can rewarm them in the oven on 190°C (375°F) for 5 mins, if desired.

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Aside from the fact that homemade corn chips are delicious, I love making them because they’re a snack that many people default to buying at the store so guests are thrilled when they’re presented with the homemade kind. Serve with Eggplant DipHomemade Tomato Salsa and/or Guacamole. Or if you want to get a little fancy, serve with Fresh Crab and Avocado Dip. Ooh la la…

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Pucker Up! It’s Chocolate Ganache Time

It’s hard to look at all this chocolate without hugging the screen. That’s the chocoholic in me coming to the fore.

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There are two things that I really love about chocolate ganache – it calls for three basic ingredients – chocolate, cream and oil – and it can be spooned, dolloped, drizzled, poured and piped over and into so many beautiful desserts. You can pretty much let your imagination run wild when it comes to ganache – ahem body paint – but here are my top 7 favourite ways to put ganache to work:

  • Slice a fresh croissant down the middle, spoon the ganache inside and heat until the croissant is golden brown and the chocolate is oozy and warm.
  • While the ganache is still warm, pour it over your favourite chocolate or butter cake for a gorgeous and simple glaze.
  • Whip it goooood! Allow ganache to cool down to room temp (this will take about an hour, stir often) and smear it over cupcakes. Take these babies into school or work and knock the socks off your mates.
  • Spread it down the middle of a thin crepe, roll it up and grate any remaining chocolate pieces over to serve. A microplane grater will give you the prettiest and most delicate result.
  • Fill a family-size sweet tart or little tartlets with ganache – you’ll need a piping bag for tartlets however, a spatula will work perfectly for a larger tart. I’m almost equal parts crazy about caramel as I am about chocolate so I fill the bottom of the tart with caramel, let that set in the fridge then pour the ganache over the top. Pop the tart back in the fridge to set again and top with fresh raspberries.
  • Fondue baby fondue…. Dip your favourite fruits, slices of cake, brownies, marshmellows or (ok, this is going to sound super American of me but..) dip your salty pretzels in there too! Decadence personified.
  • Pucker up. For an episode of Take Home Chef, I convinced a lovely couple to paint one another’s lips in delicious, silky chocolate and smooch until they were chocolate-free. Chocolate is the quintessential sexy ingredient, right? So you’ve gotta have a bit of fun with it.

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Surely I’ve suitably romanced you into whipping up chocolate ganache by now?? Let’s do this:

In a small heavy saucepan, heat 1/2 cup heavy cream over medium-high heat just until hot. Remove the pan from the heat, add 100g (3.5oz) high-quality chopped dark chocolate (70% cacao) and 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, and set aside for 1 minute. After 1 minute, whisk the mixture to blend.

Tips

  • Chop the chocolate into the thin little strips then cut across the strips to break it down into smaller specks. This will allow the chocolate to melt and blend into the warm cream with ease.
  • As tempting as it is, resist from stirring the cream and chocolate together until that 1 minute is up. Stirring too early will result in a grainy mixture.
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Eggplant: It’s a Charred Life

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There is one pothole that many of us fall into when it comes to eggplant – we don’t cook it for long enough. And I hate to say it but chefs aren’t always an exception to this faux pas either. If you’ve ever ordered a grilled veggie focaccia from a café, nine times out of ten you’ll find a thick slice of eggplant that’s slightly bitter and spongy in texture stuffed between the toasted bread… which is probably the reason you walk right on by these ink-skinned veggies at the markets. Well, it’s time to give eggplants the justice they deserve and position them firmly on the culinary map because when they’re cooked to creamy and silky perfection, they’re incomparable to the sponge-fest you may be used to.

When cooking most veggies, you want to retain a lot of their natural shape and texture; just think of grilled asparagus and blanched green beans, but it’s not the case for eggplant. You want to char and soften it right up. Remember: char and soften, char and soften!!! Refrain from removing your eggplant from the heat source until you’ve achieved this.

One of my very favourite ways to eat eggplant is in a dip or puree form. It’s a great snack to keep in the fridge for the week or to serve as part of an antipasto platter. Eggplant and feta cheese go famously together so I often sprinkle feta over the dip or crumble it into a little bowl and serve alongside the puree. Another party trick is to dust your homemade corn chips with cumin powder and dunk them into the dip; the smokiness of both the spice and charred eggplant are complementary to one another.

To whip up the dip, you’ll need:

4 eggplants
1/4 cup olive oil, divided
8 garlic cloves, peeled
1/3 cup tahini (if desired – if you’d rather hold onto that pure eggplant flavour then omit the tahini)
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley

To prepare the eggplant dip:

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Preheat the grill or barbecue for medium-high heat. Using a small knife, make slashes all over the eggplants and rub them each with 2 teaspoons of oil. Insert two cloves of garlic into each of the whole eggplants.

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Place the eggplants on a pan under the grill or set the eggplants on the barbecue and cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until charred all over and softened, turning often to ensure even colouring and cooking. Remove the eggplants and garlic from the grill or barbecue and set aside to cool.

Remove and discard the skin from the eggplants. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. By this stage your eggplant is deliciously slimy, so kids love getting in there to help remove those bitter seeds.

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In a food processor, blend the eggplant pulp and garlic to form a smooth puree. Blend in the tahini, lemon juice, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in the parsley. Season to taste with salt. Note: If you are omitting the tahini, feel free to give the eggplant dip just a quick whiz in the blender rather than puree it, in order to retain some of its natural fleshy texture.

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How To Make Rosemary Salt

You’ve probably seen salt and herb mixes in the stores but I like to mix up my own blends because they’re super fresh, inexpensive, I always have the ingredients to hand – I use salt, pepper, lemon and rosemary for this one – and they’re dead simple to make.

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Here’s how: In a small food processor, combine 1/3 cup rosemary leaves, 2 tablespoons lemon zest, 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper and 1/4 cup coarse sea salt. Process to finely grind the mixture. Add another 1/4 cup sea salt and pulse to incorporate the salt while leaving the mixture the size of breadcrumbs.

If you’d like a super fresh mix, then lay the rosemary salt on a baking tray to dry out for 1 hour – the mix will remain zesty and fresh for around 3 days. To keep your mix for up to 1 month (salt blends make awesome edible gifts), completely dry it out in the oven on a low temperature (90C/200F) for 1.5 hours and store in an airtight container.

So, now for the delicious part. Massage, sprinkle or rub your salt on a nice piece of steak or salmon, pork, baked potatoes, hot chips, homemade crisps or a whole roasted chicken, turkey or any other poultry. It tastes great over grilled or slow roasted veggies, especially on pumpkin, carrots, eggplant and tomatoes. And don’t forget to season your sandwiches and baguettes with a pinch of this good stuff – it’ll take your lunch from zero to hero.

For sage or thyme salt, simply swap out the rosemary replace with these fresh herbs.

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Be Corny

Corn has multiple personalities. Sweet and juicy, the pale yellow veggie is the very nature of summer. But with a growing season that stretches into October, corn also has the richness and depth to hold up to autumn’s heartier cool-weather dishes. Which means, there’s no end to what you can do with corn.

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Grilled corn on the cob makes a slightly sweet snack or side dish. Boiling or steaming works great too, especially if you’re in the mood for clean, bright flavour. Squeeze a bit of lime and sprinkle with salt and pepper before eating. There’s really no limit what you can do with the fresh kernels of corn. They add a touch of juiciness to quesadillas and mixed salads and lend their sweetness to a chunky salsa or relish. Add to potpies and pasties; corn gives these rich baked dishes a hint of crunchiness. Reduce the corn to make a pudding-like sauce or show off their sweetness by making some homemade sweet corn ice cream.

Get creative. But first, you’ll need to pick up some fresh corn.

To buy: As soon as it’s picked, corn’s natural sugars begin to turn to starch, which over time robs the cobs of their sweetness. Head to your farmers’ market or supermarket and ask when the corn was picked. You want to buy it as close to picking as possible.

Look for: Ears with bright green husks that fit snugly against the corn. The silk should be a golden brown and a little sticky (which shows you that the corn was picked recently). Peek inside the husks. The kernels should be plump, spaced tightly and visible all the way to the tip of the ear.

Use it or lose it: Corn will taste best if you use it within a day of buying it. Corn will stay sweet up to 3 days if you tightly wrap the ears in a plastic bag and keep in the fridge.

Kinds: Yellow, aka Golden Bantam, has large kernels and a strong corn flavor. White, or Country Gentleman, are smaller and sweeter tasting, while butter and sugar, a mix of white and yellow, offers up the best of both worlds. Indian corn has red, blue, brown and purple kernels. We see it used mostly as decoration but it’s edible. Just don’t cook up the centerpiece. It’s definitely been dried and probably coated with varnish.

Go organic: There’s a lot of talk these days about genetically modified organisms, whether they carry health risks, their impact on agriculture and whether GMO foods should be clearly labelled. Some 61 percent of corn grown in the US is genetically modified. To avoid GMO, you have to buy organic.

I first fell in love with corn eating my mum’s delectable muffins, which inspired these Corn and Bacon Muffins with Herb Butter.

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