Archive | November, 2012

Quails, the easy way…

25 Nov

quail gourmet

I don’t know about you, but I love quails! I have been eating them since I was a child, along with other birds. When I say birds, I mean cute little birds. That was long ago when I’d go hunting with my father, before guns became illegal in Australia. Culling of quails, kangaroos and rabbits was encouraged as their population was out of control in southern New South Wales. The occasional stray bird that made it into the hunting sack was also naturally eaten.

As a child I ate almost anything that gave me sensory overload, but now, I stick to domesticated meat. So cute little birds are off the menu, except quails. Funny enough, I still find it very strange that mushrooms threw me off but eating a bird from head to claws didn’t. huh!?

I remember reading a chapter in Medium Raw where Anthony Bourdain likened the expressions of several chefs after they devoured the 16 cm Ortolan Bunting in one bite to “an identical just-fucked look”. As I child I don’t think I could have been that articulate about my dad’s expression as he had his stray finch, but I can certify that he was a happy man eating it.

Quails have delicate lean meat. They can be deep-fried, grilled or roasted. Some like to brine before roasting, others don’t. I fall into the second group. I really don’t see the point of brining. The quail is so small and will remain tender if not overcooked. I tend not to deep fry at home so roasting is my preferred style. I reserve the deep-fried experience for when I eat out at a Vietnamese restaurant where they’re bound to have crispy fried quail on the menu.

I’ve always been curious about how they debone quails at restaurants too so I pulled out my Le Cordon Bleu cooking book for answers. I’d never done that before and was feeling adventurous. I managed to debone one before giving up. I settled for the easy way, leaving the meat attached to the carcass. In hindsight, I wish had deboned all of them! Deboning = more stuffing and easy eating with knife and fork. Not deboning = less stuffing and a lot of handiwork.

I was impressed with the overall result and my guinea pig at work provided the positive feedback to call for a post. It’s not often that you see your six-foot plus colleague, sleeves rolled up tearing into a quail with delight, mumbling the words fee fi fo fum! (ok I made the last part up because you can’t help but think that when eating quails)

Let me know if you try this recipe. I would love to hear about your experience. Don’t like quails? Just use chicken or preferred bird with this to-die-for stuffing.


stuffing ingredients

  • 6 quails
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • handful of mushrooms, chopped finely
  • a few celery sticks, chopped finely
  • 5 tbsp of light olive oil
  • 50g of butter
  • 1 cup of couscous
  • brazil nuts, chopped roughly
  • finely chopped mixed herbs (oregano, marjoram, tarragon, rosemary, sage)
  • salt and pepper to taste


Wash quails, clean their insides, pat dry with paper towel, then debone or leave them whole. Set aside in a roasting dish.

plump quailsdeboned quail

In a heavy based pot, fry the garlic lightly in 1 tbsp of olive oil on medium heat until aroma fills the air (1-2min). Add, mushrooms, celery and half the herbs then sauté on low heat for about 5-10minutes or until all ingredients are tender.


Meanwhile place couscous in a container or bowl, add enough boiling water to cover, add butter and seal with lid or cling wrap. Set aside for at least 10 minutes.

Fluff the couscous using a fork, add the contents of the pan and the nuts. Combine well then stuff the quails using a small spoon.

couscous stuffing

Once stuffed, pan fry the quails (2 at a time) on medium heat until lightly golden on most sides then transfer to roasting dish.

frying quails

In a small bowl or cup, combine remaining herb mixture and olive oil (4 tbsp), season well with salt and pepper, then spread all over the quails. Use your hands to make sure they get evenly coated.

basting quails basted quails

Roast in a medium oven at 180C for about 20 minutes.

roasted quail


Beetroot Pearl Barley Risotto

13 Nov

I’ve loved pearl barley ever since I was a child. My mother would make an amazing sweet winter soup called haboub (translates to grains I think). My mother’s recipe includes pearl barley, chickpeas, sugar, aniseed, fennel and water. After she had filled our bowls, we’d sprinkle a little desiccated coconut on top and gobble up with delight. I would go for seconds, at times even thirds, depending on how much I could squeeze in after dinner.

Since then, I hadn’t come across pearl barley until my recent cooking class on superfoods. When I saw pearl barley on the menu, it instantly brought back memories of the cold Sydney winter, flannel pajamas and warm bowls of haboub. However, this dish was savoury as opposed to sweet. I couldn’t wait to learn how to make it and taste it of course. After the first mouthful, I saw myself making it often.

When the first opportunity to show off my fresh knowledge on superfoods arrived, this dish made it onto the menu. A small portion was served as dish number five out of a seven course dinner. My diner, a recent beetroot convert was very pleased with the result and so was I.

Pearl barley is an interesting grain and very versatile. It can be served cold in a salad or warm in a soup. However, I’m stuck on the idea of using it like aborio rice and following a risotto theme. I used it just a few days ago. Again, in the same way, only this time with mushroom stock, re-hydrated mushrooms, gai lan and hard tofu. I thought it was delicious but am still wondering whether its worthy of a post.

Should the next pearl barley post be dedicated to haboub or the asian-style risotto, preference anyone? Care to share your favourite pearl barley recipe? I look forward to it!

Serves 2 (with leftovers)


  • 6 small beetroots, wrapped in foil and roasted until tender (about 45mins at 180C)
  • 1 cup of pearl barley, soaked in cold water overnight
  • 1/2 onion, diced finely
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
  • 3 tbs of butter
  • 3 tbs of olive oil
  • 2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/3 cup of chopped parsley
  • 1/3 cup of chopped dill
  • salt and pepper to taste


When the beetroots are cool enough to handle, peel skin, then grate or blitz in a food processor and set aside. Reserve one beetroot and cut into chunks.

In a heavy pot, melt butter, add olive oil and then saute onion until translucent. Add pearly barley and cook for a few minutes on medium heat. Drop to a simmer, then add stock gradually stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn’t stick to the base. It should take about 30 minutes to cook the pearl barley.

Add beetroot and combine with pearly barley. Then add parsley and dill, season to taste. If the risotto is too thick, add a little more butter or stock.

Serve with fetta, a few chunks of beetroot, garnish with extra dill and a little olive oil.

Adapted from original recipe by Brenda Fawdon

Roasted Pumpkin Spelt Gnocchi with Sage Butter Sauce

9 Nov

This was dish number 4 out of the 7 course dinner which I recently prepared in Vancouver. By this time, I was running late!  To be quite frank, I’m not very good at making gnocchi. It’s a dish that requires practice and I have not practiced enough. This was the third attempt at making gnocchi but the first using pumpkin.

Surprisingly, it turned out really well. The gnocchi was light, soft and didn’t leave us feeling like we’re too-stuffed-for-the-next-course. The sage butter sauce combined well with the golden pan-fried gnocchi. I think that a cream based sauce would work too.

Unfortunately I don’t have any photos to go with this post as I ran out of time. However, I have included a few photos from a recent cooking class at Mondo Organics (Post to follow) on pasta which also included making gnocchi.

If you’ve made it before, I’d like to hear about your experience. Tips are welcome too!

making gnocchignocchi

Serves 2 (with leftovers)


  • 1 small butternut pumpkin, peeled, seeds cored out and cut into small pieces (about 300g)
  • 2 medium-sized potatoes (about 300g), boiled in unsalted water
  • 1/2 cup of spelt or strong flour (you may need more depending on the mixture)
  • 2 egg yolks (optional)
  • 6-8 sage leaves
  • 2 tbsp of butter
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • salt to taste


Wrap pumpkin pieces in foil and roast in hot oven (180C) for about 30-40mins. Whilst pumpkin is roasting, boil the potatoes for about 30mins or until tender.

Once potatoes are tender (should be easy to pierce with fork), drain and transfer to a large bowl. When cool enough to handle, remove skin then mash with a fork.  Use a potato ricer or Moule if you have one. Make sure that there are no lumpy bits.

Mash the pumpkin in a separate bowl and then combine with the potatoes using a fork. It’s important to do this when everything is still warm to make sure that the gnocchi ends up light and fluffy.

Fold egg yolks into potato/pumpkin mixture, then add flour gradually, about a tablespoon at a time until the mixture is no longer wet. It should be firm enough to handle and not sticky. Don’t over do it on the flour (more flour = firmer gnocchi). Let it rest for 5 minutes or so.

Divide mixture into four, roll each quarter into a sausage shape 2cm in diameter on a floured surface, then cut into 3cm lengths. Dust with flour and cover with moist tea towel to stop it from drying out.

When ready to use, cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes or until they float. Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate or transfer to a pan and fry lightly or add to the sauce of choice.

Sage Butter Sauce

  • 50 g salted butter
  • 8 small leaves of sage
  • Grated pecorino or parmesan to taste

Place chopped butter into pan over medium heat and cook until melted. Add sage leaves to pan, cook until butter has turned a nut-brown colour and sage leaves are crisp (5mins or so). Add the gnocchi and pan-fry for a couple of minutes until the edges turn golden.

Tip: If you’ve made a large batch and have more than you need, just place gnocchi on well floured plate, transfer to freezer until frozen then drop them into freezer bag and use when ready.

Wild Mushroom Soup

5 Nov
wild mushrooms wild mushrooms

I hated mushrooms during my childhood and almost gagged with every mouthful. I would avoid them at all costs, even developed a “mushie-phobia”. I would feel sick as soon as I caught a glimpse of my mother chopping them up. Perhaps it was the rubbery texture that threw me off? I’m not sure.

Nowadays, I love them: oyster, enoki, shitake, shimeji, button, swiss brown, chanterelle, porcini, …cooked any style. I don’t remember how or when I got over my phobia, but I’m glad I did. Have you suffered from a food phobia as a child and grown to like the same food as an adult?

The inspiration for this dish came from a spoonful of porcini mushroom soup which I’d tasted at Vetro, an Italian restaurant in Mumbai. Instead of porcini, I’ve used a mix of chanterelle, oyster and swiss browns. You can use any type that you like. I made this recipe up and served it as part of a 7 course dinner at home. It’s very easy to make and very tasty!

Serves 2 (with leftovers)


  • 3 tbs of butter
  • 1/2 white onion, diced finely
  • 500g of mushrooms, chopped coarsely (reserve a few and roast in oven in foil with a knob of butter for presentation)
  • 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tbsp of dill, diced finely
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 100ml of thick cream


In a saucepan, melt the butter, saute onion until translucent, then add garlic and cook until garlic is soft.

Add the mushrooms, cover and cook on moderate heat for about 5 minutes, until the mushrooms have softened.

Add the stock, bring to the boil, cover and simmer until the mushrooms are tender.

Take off the heat, add half the cream. Use a stick blender or food processor to blitz until smooth.

Ladle into small soup bowels, drizzle the remaining cream and then arrange the roasted mushrooms in the centre.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with croutons (not shown) and garnish with dill.

Tip: When frying croutons in skillet, just add the desired herb or spice to the oil to infuse the croutons.

Roasted Tomato Soup

2 Nov

Tomato Soup Oregano

I recently served this dish with a 7 course dinner whilst in Vancouver. I was trying to replicate a soup which I had at Starbucks at Muir Woods, just outside of San Francisco. Yes Starbucks! To be honest, I was quite surprised to see that just about everything on their menu was either organic, fair trade, pesticide-free or gluten-free.

It may have been the contrast of coming in from the cold weather to a warm cup of soup that made it really special. Not sure. Nonetheless, this soup took us back to that moment, is tasty and very easy to make.

Serves 2


  • 250g of cherry tomatoes (any tomatoes will do, I just happened to have baby cherry)
  • 3 tbs of olive oil
  • 1/2 white onion, diced finely
  • 1 small clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp of dried oregano or thyme
  • salt and pepper to taste


Roast tomatoes in an oven for about 30 minutes at 180C (350F) then remove skin.

In a saucepan, saute onion in olive oil until translucent, then add garlic and cook until garlic is soft.

Add tomato flesh, saute for another 5 minutes. Add stock, stir and simmer uncovered until consistency is thick (I like my soup thick, similar to a smoothie).

Take off the heat, add oregano. Use a stick blender or food processor to blitz until smooth.

Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with oregano croutons and garnish with dried oregano.

Tip: When frying croutons in skillet, just add the desired herb or spice to the oil to infuse the croutons.

Leafy Green Salad with agave dressing

1 Nov

Gourmet Salad

This recipe is part of a 7 course dinner which I recently prepared in Vancouver. I love pecans but if you don’t like them, you can substitute with hazelnuts or just leave them out altogether.

Semi-dried cranberries can also be substituted with raisins and agave nectar with honey or similar. It boils down to your own personal taste and of course, that of the person you’re trying to woo 😉

I loved this salad and its so easy to make!

Serves 2


  • 3 cups of mixed salad leaves
  • 1 tbsp of semi-dried cranberries
  • 2 tbs of pecans
  • 50g of goat milk fetta, crumbled

For the dressing: 2 tbs of extra virgin olive oil, 2 tbs agave nectar & 2 tbs of balsamic vinegar


Mix dressing ingredients in a jar and shake until combined. In a bowl, dress the salad leaves, split into 2 portions, then place onto individual plates. Arrange the rest of the ingredients and serve.

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