Oct 27 2017

It’s Kaftalicious!

Alex’s quick and light version of Lebanese kafta – packed with fresh herbs and punchy spices

I caught up with Alex at a friends’ podcast Fussy Eater launch night at Cake Wines. Being in an event about eating/food, naturally and appropriately we started to chat about his love of cooking. After a few persuasions from me and encouragements from our friends, Alex agreed to cook for the blog and the result was kaftalicious!

Alex made his quick and light version of the Lebanese kafta. Packed with fresh herbs and punchy spices, it was a great Sunday easy lunch served with the tangy coriander chilli and pomegranate roast potatoes.

Alex: My mum’s Lebanese so she’d always make kafta if we were having a BBQ. There aren’t many ways that she expresses her ethnicity, but food is definitely one of them. The potatoes are a recipe I was inpired by/ripped off from Mankoushe’s Instagram, my fave Lebanese bakery/cafe in Melbourne.

Baharat Spice Mix – this is a special all-purpose spice blend widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine.  Add a healthy dose of this mix into the mince to create depth and full bodied kafta.

You can use food processor to mix all the ingredients, but Alex prefers to finely chop them to add a bit more texture.

Roast the quartered potatoes until they are golden brown then let cool on the stove before adding the coriander, chilli and pomegranate dressing.

Who: Al Grigg

Home is: Darlington

Family origin: My mum’s Lebanese and my Dad’s Aussie

I can’t live without: Music. It’s pretty much the centre of my life. I’m always listening to music or playing music or humming a tune or have a song going through my head or hosting a radio show about music. From 2003-2011, I was the lead singer of Red Riders

Occupation: Event and venue booker

Dream Job: I would’ve loved to remain as a professional musician, but that ship has well and truly sailed. I also think I’d like to be the guy that gives ratings to movies, TV shows and games. I reckon that would be fun. Although I guess you’d see a lot of messed up stuff too

Currently I am obsessed with: Space – I’m always obsessed with space. It blows my tiny mind

Childhood taste: Pizza Pockets or white bread rolls with Kraft singles melted in the microwave

I will always have in my pantry: A lot of random herbs and spices, cos I always buy a packet, use a tiny bit then push them to the back of the cupboard and forget about them and then buy the same thing again

I learnt to cook from: My mum. She’s an awesome and very natural cook. Like very instinctual with flavours and what’s gonna work. She always had a lot of cookbooks around and Gourmet Traveller mags, so I’d alway paw through those. Plus I love watching cooking shows. I watched a lot of Huey’s Cooking Adventures during high school

Currently I’m listening to: SZA – Ctrl. My housemate would always be listening to this music and I’d constantly ask her, “Who’s this?” And every time the answer would be SZA. So now I’m hooked

One day I must visit: Beirut. My mum was born in Tripoli and her family is from the mountains of Lebanon, so I’d love to visit those places as well, but I think I would fall in love with Beirut

Go to meal: I actually love making salads. I know that sounds lame, but I love delicious fresh veggies and herbs and sometimes fruit with a really good dressing. Just real crispy and yum

I am really good at: Answering this questionnaire. I’m killing it!

The unforgettable meal: Oh my god I have the worst memory. Quay was pretty amazing. Had a really good meal at Rosetta recently. The Sichuan chicken wings at Queen Vic were a good time. I love Mankoushe in Brunswick. I go there every time I’m in Melbourne without fail

My piece of Sydney: Gordon’s Bay. A genuine slice of paradise

Guilty pleasure: Being on a low-carb diet. My secret shame

Who does the dishes: I do them myself

Alex: Serve the potatoes and the kafta together. Feel free to whip up a quick mint yoghurt to dip the kafta in cause it’s a great accompaniment and so delish!

Lebanese Kafta & Coriander Chili Pomegranate Potatoes

Ingredients - Serves 4

  • 500g lamb (or beef) mince
  • 1 bunch of parsley
  • 1 bunch of mint
  • 3 good sized spring onions
  • 1 tbs of Baharat spice mix (a Lebanese spice mix containing Paprika, Pepper, Cumin, Cassia, Cloves, Coriander Seed, Cardamom, Nutmeg)
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and peper
  • As many smallish waxy potatoes as you wanna eat but enough for four people
  • Pomegranate mollasses
  • Chilli powder
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 juicy lemon
  • Handful of Pomegranate seeds
  1. Start with the potatoes. Cut the spuds into sort of 1cm cubes or quartered. I like to go small cause they end up extra crunchy. Douse in olive oil and salt, chuck into a baking dish and pop in a preheated 220c degree oven. Cook until super golden.
  2. While they’re crisping up, take the mint, 3/4 of the parsley and the three spring onions and dice super fine. No stalks. Knead the herbs and onion into the mince with your hands. Sprinkle in the Baharat. This will give it the authentic Middle Eastern flavour. Chuck in a dollop of olive oil and mix until it’s well combined and looks consistent.
  3. Wet your hands and make little sausage shaped morsels out of the mince around 10cm long.
  4. Heat a pan with some oil on med-high and cook each little kafta for a couple minutes on each side until slightly firm to touch. They would be better on the BBQ, but I was out of gas and feeling a bit lazy.
  5. On a clean board, dice the rest of the parsley, the coriander and the garlic. Again, super fine. Put in a bowl. Pour in a healthy amount of olive oil. Maybe half a cup will do. Add salt and pepper, chilli powder, a good dollop of the pomegranate molasses and the juice of one lemon. Now mix in your crispy potatoes into the deliciousness and stir around, coating them thoroughly. Now’s the time to bung in the pomegranate seeds too if you’re using them.
  6. Serve the potatoes and the kafta together. Feel free to whip up a quick mint yoghurt to dip the kafta in. It’s a great accompaniment and so delicious.
Jul 30 2017

Paris in the Spring with Hanz Gueco

Hanz scored a highly Commended Electrolux Appetite For Excellence awards in 2014. Three years later, he finds himself in Paris living the dream of every young chef.

On a fine spring morning in Paris, I had the pleasure of spending some time with the highly talented Australian chef Hanz Gueco.

Hanz: I’ve been very fortunate in my career to work at a lot of great places. I’ve worked all over the world: Australia (Marque, Rockpool, Est, Cafe Paci); Singapore; Japan (Ryugin); Sweden; the USA (Manresa) and rural Belgium. I now find myself cooking in Paris at Restaurant Verjus.

Verjus is about as romantic cooking setting there is. It’s a small but chic 30 seat restaurant situated right behind the Palais Royal Gardens. Hanz works with some of the best produce in the world to make a small and mostly vegetable based tasting menu that can often change daily. They also try to keep the food modern and with the times but still respecting the classic French cuisine traditions. Open only for dinner Monday to Friday, the waitlist is months long however this allows the chef a rare occurence in the hospitality industry – weekends off!  It really is every young cook’s dream.

Before we headed to Bastille market, we grabbed a couple of THE most amazing pain au chocolat from Blé Sucré. With this early start we took our time strolling through each aisle to find the freshest produce for the dishes Hanz was to prepare that day.

Hanz: I was planning on making something completely different but I saw that the fresh almonds, cherries and white asparagus had started so I changed course. It’s nice just walking around the market. Picking all the best stuff on the day and then figuring it all out on the way home.

Really, it was the best market experience for me – like having a personal food tour guide, in Paris! Hanz was very approachable and happy to take me to his favourite haunts. He showed me his favourite French dessert Tarte Tropézienne, the best French butter Beurre Bordier, his favourite grocer from Normandie and explained how Mimolette cheese is made 🙂

As we walked past the oyster aisle (yes a whole row dedicated to over 20 kinds of oysters from all over France!), Hanz picked some lovely sauvage oysters to go with the white asparagus dish he had in mind. He also bought some fresh rhubarb for his mignonette dressing to go with the oysters.

Hanz: I love how the raw acidic rhubarb makes this dressing super fresh, like the taste of spring. Try your best to make a really nice dice with the sharpest knife you own.

Who: Hanz Gueco

Home is: Sydney, Australia

Family origin: Both my parents are from the Phillipines. Im a thoroughbred

I can’t live without: Like so many unfortunate fools….My iPhone

Occupation: Chef

Dream Job: (See above)

Currently I am obsessed with: Im trying to buy my first vintage Rolex. When you’re hunting for the right one, you start getting very obsessive.

Childhood taste: Sunday lunches with the family at Yum Cha

I will always have in my pantry: My new year’s resolution was to have champagne and avocados in the fridge at all times.

I learnt to cook from: I was very fortunate to be taught by a lot of the great chefs of Australia; Phil Wood, Peter Doyle, Mark Best and Pasi Petanen.

Currently I’m listening to: A lot of Grateful Dead, the new Drake album and Parisian ambulances whooshing by my apartment

One day I must visit: Restaurant Mugaritz in San Sebastian. Im going in October, super excited.

Go to meal: Omelettes. Its the easiest/hardest thing to make in the world

I am really good at: Overthinking things

The unforgettable meal: It was July 2009 at Manresa in California. It was dinner at the end of my internship. I don’t remember all the dishes but I still remember the flavours. David Kinch is the best cook I’ve ever seen

My piece of Sydney: Morning runs along the harbour weaving through tourists around the Opera House

Guilty pleasure: Amaretto Sours

Who does the dishes: Ibrahim (The Kitchen Hand at Verjus)

After the market, we headed for his apartment nearby to get cooking. But to start, Hanz poured a glass of negroni for himself and a chilled, bubbly Perrier for me. Watching him cook was a delight – he has such speed and precision. I helped to peel all the fresh almonds. They tasted so sweet and had just the right level of crunchiness.

Hanz: I’m really pleased with how it turned out. The colours are gorgeous, all the different whites with the really dramatic reds. And the smoked eel makes vegetables taste so good.

Hanz was called to a lunch appointment that afternoon, so lucky for me, I had the white asparagus dish all to myself. It had such a beautiful combination of texture and flavour. Both the white asparagus and silky texture of the smoked eel worked perfectly with the crunch of fresh almonds. On top of this, the tanginess of the cherries was amazing paired with the saltiness of the dish.

White asparagus may be hard to come by in Australia however you can substitute it with the more commonly found green asparagus.

It was my third visit to Paris and this city charms me more each time.
I can’t wait to go back.

Hanz currently resides in Paris and the restaurant Verjus can be found at 52, rue de Richelieu 75001 Paris.

Oysters with Rhubarb Mignonette

Ingredients - Serves 2

  • 12 oyster shucked
  • 100ml red wine vinger
  • 1 stick of rhubarb (finely diced)
  • 1 shallot (finely diced)
  • 1/2 tsp whole black pepper (roughly ground)
  1. Mix the red wine vinegar, rhubarb, shallots and black pepper in a bowl.  Spoon a little of the dressing on the oysters. Serve.

White Asparagus from Provence with Smoked Eel, Cherries and Young Almonds

Ingredients - Serves 4

  • 12pc large white asparagus
  • 40g butter
  • Sea salt
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • 200g smoked eel (skin off, deboned and cut into batons the same size you will cut the white asparagus)
  • 200g cherries (halved and deseeded)
  • 100g young almonds (peeled and halved)
  • Red arroche (wild spinach)
  1. Peels the white asparagus and cut 3cm off the base or when it starts to look less woody.
  2. Blanch the asparagus in salted boiling water for 3 minute or until tender. Take the asparagus out and refresh in ice water to stop the cooking process. When the asparagus is cold, cut it down lengthways and then in half to make batons.
  3. Reheat the Asparagus in a saucepan with the butter and a few drops of water. Season with some salt and finish it off some lemon juice.
  4. Take off the heat and divide into four plates. Arrange the remaining ingredients on top and serve.
Apr 3 2017

Summer Spanakopita

Earlier this year we spent a wonderful couple of days in the beautiful Southern Highlands with my dear friend Patricia. We visited her sister’s property that day and the setting of her place couldn’t have been more picture perfect. Cute country house on 20 acres with grazing cows, purple hydrangeas and a veggie garden complete with Purslane. Seeing the abundance of silver beet growing in Kristal’s veggie garden, Patricia decided to make us a Spanakopita – a Greek spinach pie packed with bold refreshing flavours. A perfect summer dish.

Growing up, Patricia was always drawn to the world of cooking and hospitality. She worked in the industry since she was 15 years old. She has always loved being in a service industry and then realised she also loved teaching people and sharing with them what she had learnt in all those years.

Patricia: It’s not just about cooking, its about sharing food, conversations, opinions and growing. When I was about 27, I was working in Balmain and met Kylie Kwong through a mutual friend and one day out of the blue she called me and asked if I’d work with her and that’s when my professional cooking career started and really hasn’t ended. Through Kylie I met Neil Perry and Bill Granger, all whom I have worked for too. Sometimes I can’t believe I actually have worked with these people and I have always been so grateful for the experiences I have had and the people I have worked with.

I met Janni Kyritsis when I worked at the Rockpool group when the pastry chef I knew went to work for him. She gave him some Greek sweets that I made and he loved them. I don’t really know him though, but I loved meeting him and when he did a cooking class at the Sydney Seafood Market, my sister and I went to the class and that’s when I fell in love with his Wild Weed Pie book.

Patricia’s nieces and nephews on their Dad’s tractor

Patricia: This is a dish I learnt from Janni Kyritsis about 11 years ago and I absolutely love making it especially because it is such a Greek dish that would be at every family function. In this version, I added a big handful of chopped dill and some mint leaves to give it that extra refreshing summer taste.

Left, Greek’s mountain dried oregano. My latest herb obsession.

  • Who: Patricia Phillips
  • Home is: Mittagong
  • Family origin: Father is from Cypress and Mother is from Rhodes, Greece
  • I can’t live without: My Vizsla dog – Franke
  • Occupation: I teach cooking classes in the Southern Highlands for groups of friends and corporates
  • Dream Job: Professional traveller (is there such a career) or a professional ceramist
  • Currently I am obsessed with: Ceramics
  • Childhood taste: Loukoumades, Greek honey doughnut balls. My mother would make it whenever one of us lost our baby tooth
  • I will always have in my pantry: Vanilla beans
  • I learnt to cook from: My aunty when I was young, Kylie Kwong and other chefs I worked with
  • Currently I’m listening to: My niece talking to herself
  • One day I must visit: Positano
  • Go to meal: If I’m cooking – I love plain spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, greek mountain oregano and dried ricotta. If I’m eating out it’s dumplings all day long, I love dumplings
  • I am really good at: Making something out of nothing, I am pretty resourceful
  • The unforgettable meal: The best meals are the ones spent with the ones you love, always makes everything taste better
  • My piece of Sydney: I can’t tell you it’s a secret
  • Guilty pleasure: I love going to the movies
  • Who does the dishes: I usually hire someone to do the dishes

Pictured above to the right is Purslane. A type of weed that has the highest content of Omega 3! While also an Australian native, purslane or pigweed (Portulaca oleracea) is widespread globally and is a common summer-growing plant on most continents. Its use is documented from the Middle East by the ancient Persians, and it is still widely used as a cooked or salad vegetable in the Mediterranean.

The young shoots are fleshy, slightly tart and mucilaginous, and provide a salty tang to any salad. Lightly steamed, or wrapped in foil and thrown into the coals or on the barbecue, it is delicious with butter and pepper, making it an excellent “greens”. The leaves are rich in vitamins C and A, with some B vitamins as well. The tartness is due to oxalic acid, which cooking destroys, so people with rheumatism or gout should avoid eating it uncooked.

The seeds, used by indigenous Australians to make a flour, are the highest known vegetable source of omega 3 oils (alpha-linolenic acid). To harvest the tiny seeds, the indigenous Australians developed a method of piling the plants in heaps on a flat hard surface, bark or animal skin to let them dry. The seeds would automatically drop in a concentrated pile, where they could be easily gathered.

This highly nutritious and valuable plant is easy to grow in any garden or pot. You will occasionally find it commercially.

Patricia made Purslane, cherry tomatoes and basil salad to accompany the Spanakopita. After half an hour, it is finally out of the oven. It smelled divine and we all enjoyed it scrumptiously!


Ingredients - Serves 6

  • Filling
  • 1kg silver beet, stalks removed
  • a big handful of chopped dill
  • a small handful of chopped mint
  • 150ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 big leek, finely chopped
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Dried Greek oregano, to taste
  • 500g fresh ricotta
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup olive oil, for brushing
  • extra plain flour, for dusting
  • Filo Pastry
  • 500g plain flour
  • 225ml water
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  1. Make filo pastry: Combine flour, water, egg and salt in a bowl and stir until it comes together into a dough. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and knead for 2-3 minutes or until smooth. Wrap in plastic-film and set aside for 1 hour.
  2. Make filling: Wash silver beet leaves and with the water still clinging to them, place them in a saucepan, cover and cook over medium heat until just wilted. Drain in a colander and squeeze to extract as much liquid as possible. Roughly chop and set aside in a bowl.
  3. Heat olive oil in the saucepan, add onion and leek and cook over a low heat for 6-8 minutes, until soft.
  4. In a mixing bowl, combine the chopped silver beet, add dill, mint, egg and oregano. Gently fold in ricotta, season to taste with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.
  5. Preheat oven to 200ºC. Cut filo pastry in half and roll out 1 half on a lightly floured surface to make a 60cm square. Using a dinner plate as a guide, cut a round in the centre of the pastry, then cut remaining pastry into 8 equal pieces and brush the 8 pieces liberally with oil. Place the 8 pastry pieces on top of one another, top with the pastry round, dust generously with flour and roll out into a 40cm round. Trim edges to make a neat 40cm round. Place this round on a 26cm pizza tray. Repeat rolling, cutting and layering with the remaining pastry half. Trim edges to make a neat 40cm round and set aside. Spread filling to edges of pizza tray, then fold excess pastry over filling, pleating sides as you go. Gently gather second sheet of rolled pastry with two hands and place on top of pie, allowing it to fold.
  6. Brush generously with olive oil and bake for 30 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature.
  7. Janni Kyritsis’ tips if you plan to use nettles: When preparing nettles, wear rubber gloves as any contact with the nettles will cause itchiness for days. Harvested from the wild, only the young shoots and tops of nettles are eaten, but they must be cooked beforehand to remove the stinging element. If nettles are unavailable, just use the other greens. This pie is ideal for a picnic or light lunch. You could use this pie filling with a commercial filo pastry, which is what many modern Greeks would choose to do.

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