Everybody can cook

Irish-born Australian chef Colin Fassnidge prepares a meal with his 
daughters. PHOTOS: ALAN BENSON
Irish-born Australian chef Colin Fassnidge prepares a meal with his daughters. PHOTOS: ALAN BENSON
Tell chef Colin Fassnidge you cannot cook and he will not believe you.

The Australian-based Irish chef and television personality, believes everyone can cook - all they need is a good grounding in the basics and some commonsense kitchen now-how to develop a repertoire of family favourites.

THE BOOK:

The Commonsense Cook, by Colin Fassnidge, 
published by Plum, RRP $39.99
THE BOOK: The Commonsense Cook, by Colin Fassnidge, published by Plum, RRP $39.99

This is where his latest book, The Commonsense Cook, comes in. He urges people not be afraid of cooking. Instead of trying for Instagram-ready food, people should focus on bringing enjoyment to family and friends.

"Cooking should, above all, be fun and taste good."

Fassnidge, a former executive chef known for his innovative nose to tail food and his role on My Kitchen Rules, has slowed down, stepped off the restaurant grind, and is cooking much simpler food himself.

"I’m remembering the essence of what I actually love. For me, slowing down the pace of life means more cooking at home with friends and family, over coal fires and barbecues, with stories and red wine."

Now able to cook the food he loves to eat and the food he loves to share, he has started noting the meals that put a smile on the faces of his friends and children.

"I’m now old and battle-wise and I’m cooking the food I started out with as a kid - achievable food that warms the heart and makes people happy."

He provides many recipes for the basics — a simple omelette, a pizza base, a green sauce that goes with everything and a roast - the foundations for countless meals.

His Irish roots are also apparent with recipes for spiced calf liver - "for my dad" - and an Irish stew lightened up for "Oz".

Alongside this, he provides tips and notes about how to minimise waste and use leftovers.

"Sometimes the second-night dish is even better than the first. Get creative with leftovers."

The book was finished during Covid-19 and he hopes it will further encourage those who got into cooking during lockdowns.

"I want these recipes to be cooked at family tables and passed on, so that in later years kids will cook them at their own family."

The book is divided into easy-to-follow sections, such as salads, vegetables, seafood, chicken, pork, red meat and sweets.

Posh cauliflower cheese

Along with my show-stopping roasted pumpkin, I like to serve this whole cauliflower cheese - leaves and all - whenever we serve our whole pig feast at my pubs. It is even more impressive served at home with your favourite roast.

Serves/Makes 4-6

1 whole cauliflower, leaves attached

Cheese sauce

50g butter

50g (⅓ cup) plain flour

700ml full-cream milk

50g (½ cup) grated parmesan

50g (½ cup) grated cheddar

Method

To prepare the cauliflower, carefully remove the green leaves, keeping them intact. Trim the base of the cauliflower and discard.

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil over medium-high heat and blanch the green leaves for 1 minute. Using tongs, remove the leaves and refresh them in iced water. Set aside.

Add the whole cauliflower to the boiling water and blanch for 4 minutes or until just cooked, then remove and set aside.

Heat a small frying pan over medium heat and dry the cauliflower head in the pan for 20 minutes, moving the cauliflower head around to ensure you dry all the florets. Transfer the cauliflower to a small baking dish.

Heat the oven to 180degC (fan-forced).

To make the cheese sauce

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the flour, then reduce the heat to low and cook for 3-4 minutes, until the mixture looks like wet sand. Pour in all the milk at once and whisk constantly to prevent any lumps from forming.

Keep stirring until the sauce starts to thicken, then bring the sauce to a simmer and continue to whisk for 5 minutes or until you have a smooth bechamel. Add the grated parmesan and cheddar and whisk until melted. Pour the cheese sauce over the cauliflower and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or until the cheese is golden.

Arrange the green leaves in a serving bowl and place the cheesy whole cauliflower in the middle to make it look like a whole cauliflower again.

Leftovers

Use leftover cauliflower cheese to make a cauliflower and miso soup for lunch the next day.

Bad boys (aka crispy chicken thighs) 

This adaptation of my famous chicken bread recipe has quickly become a family favourite at home, and was given its name by my daughters, Lily and Maeve. It’s easier to prepare than the original, requires less cooking time and the portion sizes are more manageable, but that doesn’t stop my kids fighting over how much crispy skin they get!

Serves 4

4 chicken thighs, bone in, skin on

80g salted butter, softened

1 garlic bulb, cloves peeled and smashed using the side of a large knife

1 loaf good-quality sourdough

1 potato, sliced

bunch of basil

bunch of thyme

bunch of tarragon

300ml extra-virgin olive oil

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lemon, halved

Chicken brine

1 litre water

50g table salt

1 Tbsp brown sugar

Method

To brine the chicken: Pour 1 litre of water into a large container and stir through the salt and sugar until dissolved. Add the chicken thighs and set aside in the fridge for 3 hours.

Heat the oven to 200degC (fan-forced).

Pat the chicken thighs dry with paper towel and discard the brine.

Combine half the butter and half the garlic in a small bowl, then slide the mixture over the chicken skin. Using your hands, smooth the skin to spread the butter mixture around the thighs.

Cut the sourdough loaf in half horizontally and set the top half aside for another use. Arrange the potato slices in the base of a roasting dish and sit the bread on top. Rip the herbs, then scatter them over the bread (set aside a few thyme sprigs for later), along with the remaining garlic cloves.

Cut the remaining butter into small pieces and dot over the top. Drizzle with half the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Place the chicken thighs on top of the bread, drizzle over the remaining oil, top with the remaining thyme sprigs and season again.

Roast for 40 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through and golden. Remove the dish from the oven and rest the chicken for 10 minutes. Squeeze over the lemon halves.

Divide the potato, chicken and bread among plates and serve.

Eton mess

This looks like a very simple dish, but it’s full of different flavours and textures. You can change up the fruit according to the season. It’s a great way to use up leftover egg whites, too.

Serves 4

300g strawberries, hulled and quartered

¼ tsp sea salt

1 tsp caster sugar

juice of ½ lemon

mint leaves, to serve (optional)

Italian meringue

100ml water

185g caster sugar

185g glucose syrup

3 large egg whites

Whipped cream

225ml double cream

1 tsp icing sugar

½ tsp vanilla essence

Method

To make the Italian meringue

Combine the caster sugar, glucose and 100ml of water in a small saucepan and bring to 118degC.

Meanwhile, place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attached. Beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Once the sugar mixture has reached 118degC, slowly pour it into the egg white in a thin continuous stream, then whisk on high speed for 15 minutes.

Rest for 3 hours (or overnight for a crispier result).

Heat the oven to 100degC (fan-forced). Line a baking tray with baking paper.

Spread the meringue over the prepared baking tray to a thickness of 5mm and bake for 1 hour. If it is still too soft or chewy, reduce the oven temperature by 10degC and cook until crisp. Turn the oven off, then leave the meringue inside the oven to completely cool. Once cool, break the meringue into shards.

Meanwhile, place the strawberries, salt, sugar and lemon juice in a large mixing bowl and toss to combine. Set aside for 30-40 minutes, until the strawberries are soft and macerated.

To make the whipped cream

Clean the bowl of the stand mixer, then place all the ingredients in the bowl and whisk on medium speed until you have light peaks. Set aside.

To assemble

Place a few macerated strawberries and their juice in sundae glasses or serving bowls. Top with a layer of meringue shards and a generous dessert spoon of cream. Repeat the layering until you’ve used all the ingredients, top with some mint leaves if you like, then serve immediately.

 

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