|Crest Hotel, Inner City Brisbane Circa 2015|
Everyone does it sometimes; some more often than not. We’re all guilty even if we don’t recognise it to be so. There are times we push our beliefs and tastes on others, even if, to the end of the earth, we deny being culpable. Fortunately the earth isn’t flat (it isn’t, is it?) otherwise we’d fall off the edge because of the extremes to which we sometimes go. At least, with the world being round (I’m taking your word for it) when we go to extremes, if we keep going forward we’ll end up back where we began. I guess that’s why I stay put - why I firmly squashed the travel bug - I hate going around in circles.
A restaurant in which I cooked years ago - before I came to live here on the mountain - the female owner (a husband and wife owned and ran the property) liked to poke around the kitchen, putting her two bob’s worth in. Without invitation, she stepped up to the plate, bench and kitchen sink.
After applying for the job and conducting the interview in front of the mirror she hired herself and became my kitchen-hand. I didn’t appoint her; she appointed herself. Having no say in the matter I couldn’t tell her where to go. Without hesitation she would’ve told me where to go if I had. Given no choice but to gather up my knives I would’ve had to hit the road.
Of course, she was a help. On the other hand, more than often enough she was a hindrance. Mainly, her attitude was the obstacle. It was as tight as a straightjacket – fish had nothing to do with it – if you understand my meaning!
Every day I bit my tongue, not from munching on peanuts, but from stopping myself from saying something she wouldn’t have understood! Along with greed, I hate meanness.
During buffets, much to my chagrin, she’d stand by the tables watching what the diners put on their plates. I was sure she counted the oysters and prawns, one by one! I’ll never forget one afternoon while preparing for a seafood buffet I asked her to put the oysters (oysters on the half shell) onto the large stainless steel tray that would sit in the refrigerated bain-marie. I looked up from what I was doing and there she was daintily placing one oyster at a time on the tray, taking a month of Sundays to do what was a simple, quick job.
I couldn’t help myself. I blurted out, “Oh! For God’s Sake! Just tip them all onto the tray....pile them up! It’s supposed to be a seafood feast...not a famine!”
When buffets were the feature of an evening, whether for weddings or other functions, I loved to present decadent trifles as part of the array of desserts on offer. Luscious trifles regularly held pride of place on the dessert table.
Unlike her husband, my kitchen offsider wasn’t fond of a tipple of liquor in any shape, form or flavour; and that was okay. If she didn’t like to drink that was her choice - but a tipple or two of a tipple of choice might’ve helped lighten up her approach to life a little....I’m just saying!
Her husband enjoyed a glass or two of wine, or maybe a spirit or beer at different times, or when the situation suited, as did their adult children, but Madame pursed her lips and twitched her nose at the mere thought of indulging!
Whenever she prepared trifles she never added any tipples of any kind to the trifles. It might be a trifling matter, but what is a trifle without a healthy dribble of a tasty tipple over the cake? I never quibbled over a few dribbles; and never will I quibble of a dribble or two!
Using every skerrick of diplomacy I could garner, so as not to offend, I suggested to my “little helper” that I didn’t need her assistance with making trifles; for her to go water her roses; to spend time smelling them, or do some weeding. Her absence would allow me to run wild adding triple tipples to the trifles.
Yes...I know...when called for coffee can be used to drench – moisten - a trifle’s cake, but the flavour is better enhanced if Tia Maria or Kahlua is added to the coffee!
And what, pray tell, is a Rum Baba without rum – an Ali Baba, perhaps? Can you imagine classic Crêpe Suzettes without Grand Marnier and Cognac, or a red wine sauce without red wine? Steak Diane is a faux Diane if saucy Diane hasn’t set the place alight while flirting with Remy Martin!
(Back in the early 70s, when I was living in Toowong, Brisbane, a fine elderly gentleman by the name of Robert Wright used to take me out to dine once a week. Robert was Brisbane born and bred. Robert was a World War 11 veteran. He was also the first ever Doctor of Dentistry in Queensland; and, on top of all that, he was the Chilean Consul. Long story...one I’ll relate at a later date. We always dined in the same restaurant...”The Matthew Flinders Restaurant” at Brisbane’s then Crest Hotel. The hotel, opened in 1971, was Brisbane’s first international hotel. It’s since changed ownership and name and has been totally refurbished. The same table was always reserved for us; and the head waiter always served us. And, although it might sound boring to some, I always ordered Steak Diane...not only because it was delicious, but Lucky, the Italian head waiter always the dish at our table. I loved watching Lucky display his cooking prowess. His Steak Diane, to this day, remains the best I’ve ever eaten. And then, just to finish off with flare...Lucky would prepare Crepe Suzettes for me at the table).
A minor Battle Royale over the trifles ensued for a brief spell between my boss and me.
Determined, holding fast to my major section of the kitchen floor the conflict came to an abrupt, somewhat passive end when, using every ounce of diplomacy I could mobilise I declared desserts were my domain, along with entrees and mains. An armistice was reached without any blood-letting. Although, there was a short period of sulking by Madame! However, I wasn’t perturbed by the sulking. If anyone sulks around me I have a tendency to ignore them.
I concentrated on the job at hand and quietly went about the preparation of desserts, which included tipsy trifles; and busied myself setting up the mise en place in readiness for the evening’s onslaught.
Always up for a bit of fun, I couldn’t help myself one day. A buffet was planned for the following evening.
To add to the list of desserts I decided to make layered, multi-coloured jellies set in parfait glasses; layers of red, green, yellow and blue. I flavoured the red jelly with Kirsch; the green with Creme de Menthe; yellow with Cointreau and the blue with Blue Curaçao. I gave the waitresses the head’s up. They, plus Debbie, my evening kitchen-hand (not my boss) were sworn to secrecy; to not reveal my wicked ways to anyone - more particularly, Madame! The additional flavours were to remain our secret.
The rainbow, gently-flavoured jellies were the most favoured dessert on the night. They were a massive hit! Rapidly, they disappeared from the chilled display cabinet like jellies sitting out under a summer day’s high noon sun! Diners came back for seconds and thirds!
My boss commented on how popular they’d been; that, perhaps, I should make them again. Agreeing, I managed, somehow, to maintain a straight face. The waitresses and my kitchen-hand, Debbie, remained true to their end of the bargain, too. My boss was never the wiser!
Shhh! Secrets are secrets...as are secret ingredients...
Steak Diane: Pound 2 beef fillet or rump steaks (preferably beef fillet (about 160g-180g each) with flat side of meat mallet until each are about 3/4cm thick. Heat 2tsp oil in pan; cook steaks over med-high heat until done to your liking. Remove pan from heat; remove steaks to a plate; season them with salt and pepper; loosely cover with foil; set aside. Place pan over med-heat; add 2tbs brandy, 1tbs butter, 2 minced garlic cloves, 2tbs Worcestershire sauce, 1tsp Dijon mustard, 1tsp lemon juice; flame; then, if desired, add 3tbls cream. Stir until well combined; simmer until sauce reaches desired consistency; stir occasionally. (You don’t have to add the cream...the sauce is delicious without it). Return steaks and any juices to pan; reheat, gently and briefly; turn to coat in sauce; place steak on serving plate; pour sauce over steaks; serve.
Tiramisu Crepes: In bowl, beat 4 large eggs, 3/4c milk, 1/4c soda water, 3tbs butter, melted, 2tbs strongly-brewed coffee and 1tsp vanilla extract. Combine 1c plain flour, 3tbs sugar, 2tbs cocoa and 1/4tsp salt; add to milk mixture; mix well. Cover; chill 1hr. Heat a lightly greased 8-inch, non-stick pan over med-heat; pour 2tbs batter into the centre of pan. Lift and tilt pan to coat bottom evenly. Cook until edges brown a little; turn and cook 15-20 seconds longer. Remove to a wire rack. Repeat with remaining batter, greasing pan a little as needed. When cool, stack crepes with waxed paper or paper towels in between. For filling: In bowl, beat 240g mascarpone cheese, 240g softened cream cheese and 1c sugar until fluffy. Add ¼ coffee liqueur or strong-brewed coffee and 2tbs vanilla extract; beat until smooth. Spoon about 2tbs of the filling down centre of each crepe; roll up. Top with chocolate syrup, whipped cream and sifted cocoa, if desired.
Crệpe Suzettes: Batter: whisk until smooth, 6tbs plain flour and 6 eggs; add 6tbs milk and 3tbs cream. Strain into bowl, cover; chill 2hrs or overnight. Prepare sauce: Remove rind from 2 of 3 oranges, no pith; mince rind. Juice the 3 oranges; set aside. Beat 16tbs butter and 1⁄2c sugar on high speed until fluffy. Add rind; beat 1min. Gradually drizzle in juice and 3tbs Grand Marnier; beat until very light and fluffy. Heat a crêpe pan over med-high heat until hot. Grease pan with a little butter; pour in 1⁄4c batter; swirl batter to just coat pan; cook until edges brown. Turn with a spatula; brown other side for about 30secs. Transfer to plate; repeat with remaining batter, grease pan only as needed. To serve: Melt orange butter sauce in a 12-inch pan over med-heat until bubbling. Dip both sides of one crêpe in sauce, then, with best side facing down, fold in half, then in half again. Repeat process with remaining crêpes, arranging and overlapping them around the perimeter of pan. Sprinkle with a little sugar. Remove pan from heat, pour 6tbs Grand Marnier and 5tbs Cognac over crêpes; carefully ignite; spoon sauce over crêpes until flames die; serve immediately.
Banana Butterscotch Trifle: Using a home-made sponge,( or bought), coarsely tear the cake into pieces. Butterscotch Sauce; dissolve 320g brown sugar, 300ml cream, 80g butter, 40g golden syrup and 40ml brandy; bring to boil; cook until syrupy; add pinch of salt; cool 5mins. Brandy Crème Fraîche: Whisk together until soft peaks form, 750g crème fraîche, 40g brown sugar, 40ml brandy and vanilla. Slice 5 bananas. Layer ingredients in serving bowl; start with brandy crème fraîche; then scatter with some banana slices; drizzle with butterscotch; then a layer of torn cake, drizzle with brandy cream fraiche and butterscotch; continue layers. Finish with peaks of brandy crème fraîche and sliced banana; drizzle with warm butterscotch sauce; scatter salted peanuts over top.
Ginger-Orange Rum Baba: For the babas: Mix 110g plain flour, 7g sachet fast-action yeast, 15g caster sugar and zest of 1 orange in mixing bowl with a couple of large pinches of salt. Stir briefly to combine; add 100ml warm milk and 2 medium egg yolks; stir vigorously to form loose dough. Pour in 55g melted, cooled, unsalted butter; then add 2 pieces of stem ginger in syrup, finely chopped. Using wooden spoon or hands, mix well. Knead dough in bowl for around 15mins by pulling it out, then slapping it down until it become elastic, shiny and a lot less sticky (I used to feel like doing this to my boss!). The dough should begin to come away slightly from the inside of the bowl as you pull it. (Spend the previous week at your local gym getting yourself fit to do the above)! Once you can pull the dough out to a length of 15-20cm without it tearing, it’s ready. Transfer to a cleaned, lightly oiled bowl, cover with cling film; leave to rise somewhere warm for 45-60mins or until doubled in size. Have patience waiting. When the dough has risen heat oven 190°C (fan170°C). Push dough down in on itself and give it a quick knead in the bowl (very lightly oiled hands will help). Divide dough among 4 well-buttered 175ml metal pudding basins (weigh the dough; divide by 4 to make sure they’re even); cover the basins lightly with cling film;leave to prove for another 20mins until puffed up. Bake for 20 mins until risen, golden and springy to the touch. Cover with foil after 15 mins or so if they’re getting too brown.
While they’re proving, peel and thinly slice 4-5 oranges, depending on size. Put 250g caster sugar in a large, heavy-based saucepan with 250ml cold water; heat gently, without boiling, until the sugar dissolves. Bring to a rapid boil; cook until a deep golden caramel – don’t let it get too dark or it will be bitter. Once it has reached the right colour, quickly pour in 80-90ml dark rum (to taste) with another 70ml cold water; remove from heat – be very careful as the caramel will spit quite fiercely. Swirl the pan to mix the liquids and melt any solidified caramel (return it to a low heat if needed). Leave to cool for 2 mins; add orange slices; stir gently to coat. Leave to cool.
When the babas are ready, remove them from the oven, prick a few holes in the tops with a skewer, then immediately pour over a few spoonfuls of the syrup, making sure you have plenty left for a generous serving each. Leave briefly to soak in, then run a knife round the edge of the moulds; carefully remove the babas onto a cooling rack.
Mix 300ml double cream and 3tbs ginger syrup (from the jar of ginger in syrup) together. Grate thumb-size piece of fresh ginger into a clean muslin cloth or unused Chux; wrap it up and squeeze hard to push all the juice out into the cream. Whip the cream gently until pillowy. To serve, divide the orange slices among bowls, add a baba; then spoon the syrup over the tops of the babas so it pools in the bottom of the bowl. Serve the ginger cream on the side. The babas are best eaten on the day they’re made but will still be delicious the next day.