Christmas Preparations by Peter Howard

Posted on November 6, 2017 , No comments

Look around you and the warning signs are everywhere – Yes, it is Christmas time and a time for various celebrations. Christmas is the main one I guess.

For us in the kitchen of wherever we are working, it is business as usual and time for us to provide our usual service to our customers who choose to eat out inside of at home – they are an increasing demographic. These days, Christmas has changed so much from when I was younger and we, as cooks or Chefs must be able to read the public’s needs. Or we must create the dishes and events that will entice the general public to our place.

Is the traditional Christmas meal gone? Certainly, the roasted meats and turkeys etc are still popular but more and more our customers are demanding more than the Roast Turkey and the trimmings. So many places now offer cold seafood luncheon and while the price point may seem high, the appeal of this delicious fare is fantastic. The justification? And after all, it is 1 day of the year and the credit card can take another serve. One thing I used to do was to start stockpiling the prawns and whatever would freeze well now – well, in fact, a month or so ago. Prices are better now…not so expensive.

In one way or another, pork will always feature on Christmas menus – I should say for those cultures that love it – in so many countries, hams are the traditional main attraction on the plate; needless to say, there are some cultures that do not use this meat so loved in Australia, Europe and the Americas. In our business, we must be aware of those ethnic groupings that do not use pork. However, in so many of our eateries, Christmas without roasted pork and that scrumptious crackling, simply would not be Christmas. I hope you have your Ham order in by now.

I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy Christmas around the world and in the northern hemisphere where it is so cold, the traditional English fare is so acceptable and expected. However, also think about some dishes from Scandinavia – different fish dishes as so good…and different. I love pickled herrings and that was served once at Christmas lunch in Stockholm. Have a look online at the various offerings of dishes from around the Scandinavian region – maybe some will be applicable to you.

Do you have to make your own Christmas cakes? Pudding?  It is not necessary. So many excellent Christmas cake and pudding wholesalers now exist and they can be a quick and economical way to serve this traditional finishing touch to a Christmas lunch.

Let’s not forget that New Year’s Eve comes into this celebratory time of year – again traditionally it is a huge event. More and more we are asked to temper drinking rituals and with Responsible Service of Alcohol, we perhaps now look at quality, not quantity. It is up to us if we are in a position of influence in our establishment, to respect these laws of alcohol consumption. Look to good booze and great foods to make the celebration zing.

After having worked so many Christmases, I was at a loss for what to do when I did not work on Christmas Day when I retired. I think I still am wondering and as my family Christmas celebration is held before Christmas Day itself, I find that this year I will cooking and serving Christmas lunch to the homeless in my local community where I live. Gotta love it!

roasted whole carp stuffed with vegetables and almonds on wooden table

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MinaChristmas Preparations by Peter Howard

5 Tips To Know Before Going To The US

Posted on October 6, 2017 , No comments

The USA has always held some intrigue to me and I first visited there in 1979 – consequently, I have spent many interesting, educational and fun times in that amazing country. Having just returned from four weeks in the Mainland and Hawaii, here are some aspects of the hospitality industry I noted.

The amount of food served on the plate has always been huge in comparison with the portions served here. Then if you analyse the plates you will see a huge amount of carbohydrates are used which traditionally have a less expensive food cost than protein. What has changed is that the price point per plate has increased dramatically. The wastage of uneaten food on plates is still noticeable albeit a lot of food is taken home –you box it yourself at the table.

This shot shows the half of a sandwich which I could not eat and so it was ‘boxed’ to go – the price was near US$19. Last year in the same restaurant, the same sandwich sold for near US$15. I go there, Palm Springs California, every year to visit friends and this is the best Jewish deli outside New York.

USA wait staff is amongst the most friendly and efficient in the world. That permanent smile and that I-Can-Do-Anything attitude is infectious and appreciated. Sure they work for tips and have to do so as their wages are appallingly low. If you have a Union job in a big Hotel, for example, your hourly rate may be around US$8.75 to US$9 per hour. Otherwise, your hourly rate can be abysmal. In one case, in speaking with a waiter, the wait staff work for tips only and no wages (totally illegal but then if you want a job – ruthless employer) and the waiter told me he made around US$25 per hour from tips. Then there’s was a trunk system and so the bar staff, kitchen and others had to be paid out of that hourly rate. Still, the staff is fantastic and used to being totally busy. There is a much better staff to customer ratio than here. The busboy system is excellent although sometimes very noisy.

There is, as here, much more casual dining than ever before. Tablecloths a thing of the past – cutlery in containers on the table where you are seated, paper napkins of various qualities abound. Over the 4 weeks, I was there, I did not see a linen napkin. This means the whole atmosphere is more casual and yet the American customer still expects swift service – and they get it. You can eat a two-course meal in a good eatery in 30 minutes. Boy, do they pump it out in this casual eating situation!

More than other visits, I noticed a much stronger influence on ethnic eateries. This is huge in Hawaii and while the call for American style eateries is still very strong, you can notice more Indian, fusion Asian, Mexican, South American and upscale restaurants like Le Colonial in San Francisco which is Colonial Vietnamese. This very smart restaurant is up an alleyway off Post Street and the fare is excellent as is the service.

As is the case here, the wine lists now list very diversified wines from around the world and no longer is it that you can only buy Californian wines in California. International wines from around the world are on show and available with the influence of Spanish and French Rosé very clear – great wines. To take the multicultural aspect to its ultimate – try a French (Alsace) Gewurztraminer in an excellent Thai restaurant in Kehei, Maui (Hawaii) served by a Korean/native Hawaiian man. And a great eating experience.

These are a few of my observations from my recent trip. And my opinion is that we still do it so much better than anywhere in the USA and that is a fact.

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Mina5 Tips To Know Before Going To The US

What to Do With Tail End of Seasonal Vegetables – Peter Howard

Posted on August 20, 2017 , No comments

It’s hard to remember when seasons begin and finish these days as we can now buy what was once considered season vegetable and fruits all year around. However, there are some vegetables that really are best used in their season. Right now Winter is finishing and Autumn is approaching very quickly.

In effect, that means we’ve been eating the same vegetables for the last few months.

Brussels Sprouts – good with the outside leaves quickly deep-fried and used as a garnish in salads; the trimmed centre of these crisp mini cabbages can be halved and blanched, drained and cooled and finished in butter and napped with Hollandaise.

All cabbages are not all the same and the sweet Savoy or Sugarloaf is abundant now. They can be finely sliced once trimmed of the ribs and flavoured with a citrus juice (say Pink Grapefruit), salt, pink peppercorns and a sprinkle of Spanish Paprika. Toss together as for a coleslaw.

Turnips, both white and yellow, have their own peculiar flavour and texture loved by some and despised by other (I am on the former mob). Peel and cut into chips size pieces, boil until cooked through – strain and cooled. Toss the chips in heaps of browning butter, chives, sage and green peppercorn. Great served with roasted duck.

Parsnips generally end up in soup around now although they can’t be beaten roasted. Try peeled and trimmed parsnips combined with cauliflower and some potato for texture cooked in a stock and pureed for a soup. Season when reheating  – serve hot with knobs of goats curd and cracked black pepper.

Although it is hard thinking outside the usual ways in which these Winter beauties can be served, it is worth trying different approaches to relieve the typical way of serving them and to get our palates ready for Autumn.

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MinaWhat to Do With Tail End of Seasonal Vegetables – Peter Howard

Ask Peter Howard

Posted on August 7, 2017 , No comments

I was watching Mary Berry Absolute Favourites on TV the other night and not only did I think about when I first interviewed her on my radio show in the early 90ies, I also thought about the fact that here she is still up there and at it. Now I am not being ageist but Mary is older than me and that is something in itself. But Mary is a complete professional as all good TV chefs/cooks have to be.

It brought to mind that HTN is conducting a Masterclass on just how does one become a TV Chef with Sam Burke and me; as I continue to watch the modern Chefs, I realise that one thing has not changed over the decades I have been involved in media cooking and that is that they all make it look so easy – that’s the art than of being a very good TV chef. But it ain’t, believe me!

Remembering just how much time it took to get a TV cooking segment together, I also recognised how much I missed this part of my old life. It surely was exciting and challenging especially when you’re cooking out in the middle of a field and the wind is blowing and so.

Perhaps the most important aspect of being a TV cook is that I could never do a TV segment on my own. I was definitely a part of a team and without that team, I was up that creek without a paddle.

Doesn’t that make you think of your job in the kitchen? If the team is not there and the teamwork doesn’t happen, then you’re up that same creek. Teamwork in the kitchen and else is the essence of professional service.

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Ever wondered why there are holes in doughnuts? – Chef Jock Stewart

Posted on July 18, 2017 , No comments

Why Are There Holes in Doughnuts?

There are a couple of common theories about the origin of the doughnut’s hole. One of the most popular credits American seafarer Hanson Gregory with inventing the donut’s hole in 1847 while aboard a lime-trading ship. He was just 16 years old at the time.

As the story goes, Gregory wasn’t happy with the doughy consistency of the fried cakes served on the ship. Although the outsides and the edges were crisp, the centres of the donuts were always greasy and doughy.

Gregory suggested punching a hole in the middle of the fried cakes, so that the insides of the cakes would cook as evenly as the outsides. Experts believe that this reason makes sense, because of the way that doughnuts are cooked.

When dough is placed in a fryer, the outsides and edges will cook quickly, because they’re exposed to the hot oil. To fully cook the insides of the dough, the dough would have to stay in the oil for a longer time, which would lead to the outsides becoming burnt.

Punching a hole in the middle of the dough, however, allows the insides and the outsides to cook evenly, creating a perfect doughnut. There may be another reason for the holes in doughnuts though.

Doughnuts became popular in America around the same time bagels were becoming popular. Bakers and street vendors would often sell bagels stacked on long sticks or strung on a long rope. Some people believe that the holes in doughnuts allowed them to be sold in a similar way.

So what happens to all those doughnut holes that are cut out of the dough? Many people believe that those pieces of cut-out dough are what are used to make doughnut holes, which are those little round doughnut pieces that so many kids love to eat with milk.

In truth, though, many doughnuts with holes don’t actually have any dough cut out of them to make their shape. Instead, special machines spray dough into a fryer in a circular pattern. The donut holes you buy at the bakery or grocery store are usually made out of dough simply cut into small squares.

Author – Chef Jock Stewart 

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MinaEver wondered why there are holes in doughnuts? – Chef Jock Stewart

The Origin of Hawaiian Pizza – Chef Jock Stewart

Posted on July 18, 2017 , No comments

Despite its tropical name, Hawaiian pizza is actually a Canadian creation. The pineapple-laden pie is the brainchild of retired cook, Sam Panopoulos, who first served pineapple on pizza at Satellite Restaurant in Chatham, Ontario.

By the mid 60s, Satellite Restaurant (now under different ownership) had been serving pizza for a few years, the dish was still a novelty for Canadians, who at the time topped their pies conservatively.

“People only put on mushroom, bacon and pepperoni, that’s all,” said Panopoulos. “I had pineapple in the restaurant and I put some on, and I shared with some customers and they liked it. And we started serving it that way. For a long time, we were the only ones serving it.”

As we know it today, Hawaiian pizza is a classic American-style cheese pizza topped with ham and pineapple. Variations may include bacon in place of or in addition to the ham, but Panopoulos says that his major contribution was simply adding the pineapple.

“You could have only pineapple, you could have bacon and pineapple, you could have mushrooms and pineapple, anything. Just like today, you could have a choice,” he says.

Panopoulos enjoyed a certain amount of media attention over the last few years, but the pizza claim overshadows what may actually be Panopoulos’ most enduring legacy: a passion for introducing diverse flavours to Canadian diners.

In the early 60s, says Panopoulos, pizza was considered ethnic food, an Italian-American curiosity that adventurous Canadians would try when they crossed the border. Back then, Panopoulos would drive to Detroit for a taste of the cheese-topped pie.“[Then] we bought a little oven and learned how to make pizza,” he said.

Panopoulos didn’t stop with pizza. Over the years, the Satellite Restaurant introduced a variety of novel flavours to Chatham residents, like Chinese food prepared by a Chinese cook, and dishes from Panopoulos’ native Greece.

“Today you can go to a Chinese place and have a chicken salad, Thai place they give you something else. But in those days there was no way you could mix flavours,” said Panopoulos. “When you told someone to try pineapple on their pizza they looked at you like, ‘Are you crazy?’

Say what you will about Hawaiian pizza, a polarizing dish that seems to attract as many fans as detractors. But it’s this spirit, exemplified by Sam Panopoulos and other culinary innovators, that has expanded Canadian cuisine beyond maple syrup and bacon, to represent the cultural diversity that makes this country — and its cuisine — great.

Author – Chef Jock Stewart 

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MinaThe Origin of Hawaiian Pizza – Chef Jock Stewart

Ask Peter Howard

Posted on July 7, 2017 , No comments

Too many years ago, when I was learning about menu writing, seasons were a serious influence on the dishes chosen to make up the menu. Normally it was a quarterly issue and so Winter would herald great big soups (delicious and profitable), casseroles, braises – more deliciousness and profit.

Apart from the fact, our bodies need different foods for nutrition in the colder parts of the year, there is also the expectation from our customers to see these winter warmers on our menus. There can be no confusion about how our customers’ love of these flavour packed dishes that now days are increasingly mass-produced by food manufacturers and come already prepared to be reheated.

Where I live, in the sub-tropics, I guess I am surprised to see steamed puddings listed on menus in Summer when I would naturally expect to see them only as winter items. However, to me, seeing these profitable puddings on the menu is only an indication that the majority of customers would rarely see these Granny desserts at home. Steamed Caramel Pudding, Sticky Date pudding and self-saucing chocolate desserts, Bread and Butter Puddings and variations on that theme, are always popular and is really easy to prepare.

And that idea goes along with a lot of other slow cooked, flavour packed casserole-style dishes.  Even with the advent of slow cookers at home, many people love to eat braised lamb shanks and other similar dishes in our eateries. Why not? They are scrumptious and always profitable for operators.

It is another lesson for us that if we give our customers what they want to eat, they will be satisfied, regardless of the season.

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Ask Peter Howard

Posted on May 29, 2017 , No comments

I am glued to every cooking adventure that The Chefs’ Line brings on SBS TV. So far there has been so much delicious interest introduced to our small screens as we watch the magic of ethnic cooking unfold. So far there has been Lebanese, Chinese, Turkish and so many more multicultural cuisines featured.

Under the baton of the Magical Maeve O’Meara, this thought-provoking show lets us see home cooks pitted against the professional chefs that specialise in the specific cuisine that is being featured. I just love the way that the dishes unfold without any trickery. Good on SBS for having such forethought for this show and such brilliant production quality.

More to the point it is another example of where food has come in this country and how well such cooking shows have been accepted. Sure there are plenty other shows on other networks, all featuring the superb produce of this country and the super exponents that make them and their dishes some of the best, if not the best, in the world.

There can be no doubt that Australia’s ethnic mix is abundant in our country and also that two of the chefs I have seen (and know) are fully trained in the apprentice system (as are George and Curtis) and with that basic training and good industry experience they have gone on to operate excellent restaurants that lead the way to sublime eating in our country.

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Ask Peter Howard

Posted on April 12, 2017 , No comments

While visiting the USA just recently – for most of March – I couldn’t help but notice that the restaurant business was as buoyant as ever which only goes to show that not even the bizarre antics of an ‘interesting’ president can disrupt the need for people to eat and enjoy.

And just like us, the American population certainly know how to enjoy themselves while circulating big bucks into the hospitality industry. You can be assured of good service, well almost 99.99% of the time and bountiful plates of food which is mostly good to eat.

I have been going to the USA since 1979 either to play or to work and have always come away with something new and this time, I came away with the realisation or reinforcement that the American work ethic is as sound as ever. Like us, they sure can work hard and perhaps the point I did notice was they staff:customer ratio has changed. In the places we went, there were more customers to wait staff than I had previously noticed.

However, be that as it may, and it may be only the places we went, the smiling service staff of San Diego and Fort Lauderdale were there for us. As for the guys on the ship we cruised on, they put the capital W in hard Work – boy do they do it.

The joy of travel is that we learn as we go and that is a point we all need to think about and that while we are enjoying, we are also watching the various cultures at play. Long may the cultures vary!

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MinaAsk Peter Howard

The Aussie Cuisine Project

Posted on March 13, 2017 , No comments

What is Aussie cuisine?

Ask anyone their opinion and you are likely to get answers ranging from “I don’t know” to “I know it when I see it” and everything in between.

In the most recent Gault&Millau Australia review of dining establishments in Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra, more than 300 restaurants indicated that they serve “Contemporary Australian Cuisine”, but most were unable to give an informative explanation or even the defining characteristics of such a cuisine. It was this lack of a clear answer that gave birth to the Aussie Cuisine project.

There is no doubt that the past 25 years have seen the food offered in Australian restaurants and on our tables at home change considerably. Over this time, a new food culture evolved in which quality and variety – in contrast to an earlier focus on quantity – became important to many Australians. And while trends and food fashions are ever-changing, not only in Australia but in all the world’s major culinary centres, it is clear that there are certain key pillars on which our “Aussie Cuisine” is based.

Gault&Millau Australia’s Mission

To define the current cultural cuisine of Australia while acknowledging its past and offer guidance for its future. To advocate its values domestically and internationally by providing vested industries a clear identity to promote the vast and talented culinary landscape within Australia”.

Gault&Millau Australia want to hear from you

You can get involved by letting them know what you think by commenting on their articles, or by submitting an article for publication to their team at

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MinaThe Aussie Cuisine Project