Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

These rice paper rolls make a refreshing aperitif or light dinner.  There’s no cooking involved making them the perfect choice for a hot summer’s evening when everyone is feeling lazy, even the cook.

The rolls can be made up to three hours ahead and kept in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, so they don’t dry out. Vary the ingredients according to what you have on hand.

100g vermicelli noodles
350g cooked prawns, cut in halves horizontally
½ cup each coarsely chopped coriander and Vietnamese or ordinary mint
1 Lebanese cucumber or half a telegraph cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
10 rice paper wrappers (approx)
Dipping Sauce:
1 clove garlic, peeled
30g palm sugar or brown sugar
4 Tbs lime or lemon juice
3 Tbs fish sauce
1 small red chilli, thinly sliced
To garnish:
Vietnamese mint or ordinary mint

Place vermicelli in a bowl and pour over boiling water to cover. Stand for 2-4 minutes or until tender, then drain well. Use scissors to roughly cut the vermicelli into shorter lengths then place them in a bowl with the prawns, mint, cucumber and spring onion. Season to taste.

For the dipping sauce, pound garlic and sugar to a paste in a mortar and pestle then mix in the remaining ingredients. If preferred, instead of making the dipping sauce serve the rolls with store bought Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Fill a bowl with hot water. Working with one rice wrapper at a time, submerge in water to soften for about 20 seconds, then place on a damp tea towel. Spoon some of the prawn filling down the centre, fold in the ends, then roll up tightly to form a cylinder. Place on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cover with a damp tea towel. When you have made them all serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time, up to 3 hours.

Serve 2 or 3 rolls per person, with the dipping sauce and mint.

Makes about 10 rolls

Note: rice paper wrappers are sold in most supermarkets and Asian grocery stores.

Chicken Breast with Lemon and Capers

Looking for something tasty to serve mid-week? This easy recipe is one you will probably make again and again. It’s easy to halve the quantities if there are only two of you. Adding extra butter to the sauce at the end is very French and decadent, so if you’re worried about cholesterol by all means leave it out.

4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/3 cup plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 eggs, beaten
1¼ cups Panko breadcrumbs
60g Parmesan cheese, grated
25g butter
1 Tbs olive oil
½ cup dry white wine
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs drained capers
50g butter
2 Tbs finely chopped parsley

Hammer out the chicken breasts a bit with a meat mallet to an even thickness. If the breasts are huge, trim some off and keep for another meal – a stir-fry for example. Place seasoned flour, beaten eggs and Panko crumbs mixed with grated cheese in three separate shallow bowls. Coat each chicken breast first in the flour, then the beaten egg and lastly the crumb mixture, patting it on firmly.

Heat the 25g butter and olive oil in a large frying pan and fry the chicken for 5-7 minutes each side, or until golden brown and cooked through. Check with a sharp knife if you’re unsure. Remove chicken from pan and keep warm while you prepare the sauce.

Wipe out frying pan and add the wine and lemon juice. Cook for 2-3 minutes over moderately high heat, until reduced by about half. Add capers and the 50g butter cut into smaller bits, stirring constantly, until butter has barely melted. If sauce splits add a tablespoon of cold water and stir briskly until it emulsifies again. Add parsley, season to taste and spoon over the chicken. Serve with a green vegetable.

Serves 4

Gratin of Eggplant

I’ve had this recipe for decades, but haven’t made it for some time.

In the meantime I read somewhere that salting and draining eggplants to remove bitterness is a waste of time, so I don’t bother any more. Removing that stage from the recipe speeds things up.

To make it even quicker, use a jar of bought tomato passata instead of the tomato sauce.

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2-3 eggplants (aubergines) (about 800g)
olive oil
2 eggs
½ cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Tomato Sauce:
1 Tbs olive oil
1 small onion or half a large one, finely chopped
400g tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1 (410g) can chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp sugar
Topping:
4 Tbs Panko breadcrumbs (see note below)
3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 180°C. Slice eggplants  about 1 cm thick. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan until hot, then add eggplant slices a few at a time and cook on both sides until golden brown. Repeat with remaining slices adding more oil as necessary, but not too much as eggplants have a tendency to act like blotting paper. Drain eggplant slices on paper towels then arrange then overlapping in a shallow ovenproof dish, in one or two layers.

Beat eggs, cream, salt and pepper and pour over.  Bake for 20-30 mins or until the cream mixture has set. Pour over tomato sauce (see below) and spread evenly. Mix panko crumbs and Parmesan and sprinkle over the top. Bake for a further 15 mins or until browned. Serve with a salad.

Tomato sauce: while the eggplant slices are frying, start the tomato sauce. Heat oil in a frying pan and add onion. Cook gently, stirring, until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes then simmer for a few minutes until a chunky, thickish sauce has formed. Add salt, pepper and sugar.

Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a starter or side dish

Note: Panko breadcrumbs are chunky, Japanese-style breadcrumbs sold in many supermarkets. Alternatively, just blitz a slice of stale bread in the food processor.

 

Pasta with Cabbage and Anchovies

Don’t like anchovies? I have to admit I’m not mad about them either when they’re whole. But crushed into a sauce they add a unique depth of flavour which has been known to win over quite a few anchovy haters. A traditional Caesar Salad dressing wouldn’t be the same without them – but a lot of people wouldn’t even know they’re there.

I found this recipe on the New York Times recipe site which said “Just don’t mention the anchovies, tell people it’s pasta, cabbage and umami”.

This recipe is tasty on its own or as a side dish with grilled meat.

Pasta with Cabbage and Anchovies

500g dry pasta such as penne
5 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs butter
4 anchovy fillets
½ cup coarse breadcrumbs or Panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh sage
Salt and freshly ground black pepper. To taste
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive oil
½ tsp dried red chilli flakes, or finely diced fresh chilli to taste
8 cups shredded cabbage
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente. Drain.

While pasta is cooking, melt butter in a small frying pan and add half the garlic and the anchovies, mashing with a spatula until they dissolve into the butter. Add breadcrumbs and sage and cook, stirring, for about 2 mins or until golden brown. Turn off the heat and season with pepper.

Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium to high heat. Add remaining garlic and chilli and cook for a minute or so, until fragrant. Add the cabbage and cook, stirring from time to time, for 15-20 mins or until it begins to caramelise. Mix with the pasta and breadcrumb mixture, saving some of the breadcrumbs to garnish. Check for salt and pepper and serve immediately, garnished with the remaining crumb mixture and the Parmesan.

Serves 4

 

Indian Spiced Roast Lamb with Coriander Chutney

Somewhere towards the end of January I get cravings for a curry. Something spicy and a complete contrast to the food we tend to eat over the holiday period, with ham or turkey as the centrepiece.

As a change from the usual roast lamb with mint sauce, try this Indian-style spicy roast lamb. Serve the lamb with vegetables or skip the vegetables and serve it in wraps. Good for casual entertaining or teenage kids, where you can let everyone fill their own.

When it’s first made the coriander chutney is bright green. I made mine ahead and the colour changed, so it’s not so pretty in the photo.

Indian Spiced Roast Lamb with Coriander Chutney

1 leg of lamb
Spicy Marinade:
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp chilli flakes or powder
½ tsp ground turmeric
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp grated ginger
1 Tbs lemon or lime juice
1 Tbs oil
1 Tbs tomato paste
1/3 cup plain yoghurt
Coriander Chutney:
1 cup coriander leaves, tightly packed
3 spring onions, sliced
1 long fresh green chilli, seeds removed
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs lemon or lime juice
½ tsp ground cumin
Salt to taste
1 Tbs water, if needed
Garnish:
Coriander sprigs
Lemon wedges

Make slashes with a sharp knife all over the lamb. Place in a roasting pan. Place first 5 ingredients for Spicy Marinade in a small frying pan and stir over moderate heat until the spices smell fragrant. Place in a bowl, add remaining marinade ingredients and mix well. Spread all over the meat and rub in well. Leave lamb to marinate for a few hours at room temperature or loosely covered in the fridge overnight.

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Cover lamb with foil and roast for an hour and a half. Remove foil and roast for a further 30 minutes or until done to your liking. Remove from the oven and leave to rest, loosely covered with foil, for about 15 minutes, then carve thinly.

Place all ingredients for Coriander Chutney in food processor and process till chunky-smooth, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Add water if it’s too thick.

Serve lamb garnished with with coriander sprigs and lemon wedges with vegetables of your choice and the chutney. Or serve it in warm wraps with the chutney and some extra plain yoghurt and maybe some shredded lettuce or rocket.

Serves 8

Fish Fillets with Miso, Soba Noodles & Asparagus

This recipe Which came from a Coles supermarket magazine is quick, easy, tasty and healthy. What more could you want?

Fish Fillets with Miso, Soba Noodles & Asparagus

4 boneless, skinless, white fish fillets (about 150g each)
2 Tbs miso paste
3 Tbs orange or lemon juice
2 tsp honey
2 tsp soy sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
180g dried soba noodles
2 bunches asparagus, cut into 2
150g snow peas, sliced
2 tsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Place a large saucepan of water on to boil and turn the grill on high. Line a baking tray with foil, spray with oil and place the fish fillets on top. Mix miso paste, orange or lemon juice, honey and sauce sauce. Brush both sides of the fish with this mixture and season lightly with salt and pepper. Place fish under the gril and cook for 8-10 mins or until cooked.

Meanwhile cook noodles for a minute or two, then add the asparagus and snow peas and cook for another 2 mins or until vegetables and noodles are cooked. Drain well and mix in half the remaining miso sauce. Divide noodles and vegetables among 4 serving plates. Arrange fish on top and spoon over remaining miso sauce. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and spring onions.

Serves 4

Mango and Prawn Salad with Honey & Walnuts

This lovely summery salad was in a supermarket recipe hand out. I’ve made a few changes as I always do. Perfect for the warmer weather when mangoes are in season.

Mango and Prawn Salad with Honey & Walnuts

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
¼ cup vinegar
½ cup boiling water
About six cups mixed salad leaves
1 mango, peeled, stoned and thinly sliced
1 red capsicum (pepper) thinly sliced
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
300g cooked, peeled prawns (weight after peeling)
100g feta or fresh goat’s cheese, crumbled
½ cup walnuts or pecans
1 Tbs honey
Dressing:
¼ cup red wine or cider vinegar or lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs honey
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place onion in a small bowl. Add salt, sugar, vinegar and water. Mix well then leave to macerate for half an hour or more. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Place all ingredients for dressing in a jar with a lid and shake well.

Arrange salad leaves in a large shallow bowl or four individual serving plates. Use small leaves or break larger ones into bite sized pieces. Top with the mango, capsicum, tomatoes, prawns, feta or goat’s cheese and the drained onions. Place walnuts in a dry frying pan and stir over moderate heat until lightly toasted. Add honey, stir to coat, then arrange over the salad. If you do this ahead and let them get cold they will stick to the pan, so you will need to turn the heat back on briefly to loosen them. Drizzle salad with some of the dressing.

Serves 4

Variation: use peaches or nectarines instead of mangoes.

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Tim Tams

This chocolate fudge cake has been our family’s birthday cake for decades. Twice it was promoted to the status of a three-tiered wedding cake – once covered with dark chocolate ganache and shaved chocolate and the second time with white chocolate ganache. It continues to be the preferred celebration cake in our family.

For the unenlightened, a Tim Tam consists of two layers of chocolate malted biscuit, separated by chocolate cream filling and coated with a thin layer of chocolate. These biscuits have become something of an Australian icon since their launch by Arnotts in 1963. Over the years new flavours and fillings have been introduced to keep up with modern trends. Tim Tams now come in dark or milk chocolate and with fillings such as salted caramel and peanut butter.

Matthew is a staunch Tim Tam fan so I decided to use them to decorate his birthday cake this year. Unfortunately white chocolate ends up rather yellow as you can see in the photo – but it tasted good! Make the cake the day before the birthday as it’s much easier to ice next day.

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Tim Tams

2/3 cup cocoa powder
½ cup hot water
125g butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1¾ cups self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 cup buttermilk (for substitute see below)
Pinch salt
Chocolate Ganache:
300ml thick cream
250g chocolate (dark, milk or white)
To decorate:
2 x 200g packets Tim Tams
1 packet Maltesers (optional)
3 Tbs cream and 50g white chocolate, melted, to drizzle over

In a small bowl, mix hot water with cocoa until smooth. Preheat oven to 180°. In a fan-forced oven it’s best to lower the temperature to 170ºC so cake doesn’t rise too fast. Grease a 20-22cm round cake tin and line the bottom with baking paper. Alternatively use two shallow sandwich tins and line them both.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla, lastly chocolate mixture and buttermilk alternately with sifted dry ingredients. Give the mixture a good beat for 30 seconds to remove any lumps. If preferred you can do all the creaming and mixing in a food processor.

Scrape mixture into cake tin and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 mins in the centre of the oven, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Don’t overcook as you want the cake to be moist and fudgey. Two thinner cakes will take less time, around 25 mins. Cool 10 minutes in tin. Turn out and cool on a cake rack.

Make Chocolate Ganache – see below. Either ice cake just on the top and sides, or if you’ve cooked it in two sandwich tins use some of the ganache in the middle to stick them together. You can also cut one large cake in two horizontally with a serrated knife. If cake has risen into too much of a domed shape shave a bit off with a serrated knife and eat it for morning tea!

To ice cake in the middle as well as top and sides you need to make one and a half times the Ganache recipe. You need plenty to avoid cake crumbs coming off as you work and it’s very annoying to run out.

While the cake is perfectly nice without any adornment, if liked stick Tim Tams around the sides, cover the top with Maltesers and drizzle with melted and cooled white chocolate mixture. Cake keeps for 3-4 days in a tin.

Chocolate Ganache: Heat cream in a small saucepan until boiling then remove from the heat and add chocolate, broken into squares. Stir to dissolve then cool until thick enough to spread over cake.

Substitute: if you don’t have buttermilk use ½ cup plain yoghurt and ½ cup milk or 1 cup milk mixed with 1 tsp vinegar and left to stand for an hour.

Serves 14


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Pickled Ginger Slaw

This is an unusual variation on the usual coleslaw. It doesn’t contain any mayonnaise and has a bit of zing with the addition of lots of ginger. The slaw will still taste good the following day.

Perfect to serve with cold ham and turkey over the holiday period.

Pickled Ginger Slaw

About 5 cups finely sliced white cabbage,
About 2 cups finely sliced red cabbage
About ½ cup finely chopped red onion or sliced spring onions
3 coarsely grated or shredded carrots
1 red pepper finely chopped
Dressing:
1 large clove garlic
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs grated or finely chopped ginger
1/3 cup rice wine vinegar or Mirin
½ cup olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
Freshly ground black pepper

Place all the shredded vegetables in a large bowl. Place all the dressing ingredients except for the lime juice in a saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer 2 mins. Mix into the vegetables, refrigerate for 30 minutes or up to an hour. Add the lime juice and pepper just before serving.

Serves 4-6

Quick Individual Christmas Puds

Everyone is busy at this time of year. Despite best intentions it’s easy to run out of time to make puddings, cakes, mince pies and all the other traditional Christmas fare.

Adapted from a recipe published some years back in Delicious magazine, these individual Christmas puds, which were called Cheat’s mini Christmas puddings in the magazine, are very quick to make. The original recipe makes four one cup puddings, but I think half that amount is enough. I served them at a ladies Christmas lunch and we concluded that they were so small we could pretend they didn’t have any calories at all!

Puddings:
600g shop bought Christmas cake or dark fruit cake, crumbled (I used Aldi’s)
½ cup milk
4 eggs
⅓ cup mincemeat (fruit mince)
¼ cup sherry
Glace cherries to decorate
Custard:
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
2 tsp vanilla essence
4 egg yolks
1 Tbs cornflour
¼ cup caster sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease 8 half cup (125ml) dariole moulds or ramekins. Chinese tea cups (see photo below) are ideal. Place cake, milk, eggs, sherry and fruit mince in food processor and pulse a few times just to combine – you want it to remain chunky. Divide among the moulds and place in a large baking dish. They should be almost full to the top. Pour boiling water to come halfway up sides of moulds. Cover baking dish with foil. Bake 45 mins or until firm and slightly risen.

Individual serving dishes for Quick Individual Christmas Puds

Meanwhile make custard. Heat milk, cream, sugar and vanilla to boiling point, but do not allow to boil. Mix egg yolks and cornflour in a bowl. Tip some of the hot milk into the egg yolk mixture and stir to combine, then tip back into saucepan. Continue to cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spatula, until thickened. Do not allow to boil. Pour custard through a sieve to remove any tiny bits of cooked egg white.

When puddings are cooked remove moulds from dish, rest 10 mins, then tip onto individual serving dishes. Serve with custard (warm or cold) and decorate with glace cherries.

Serves 8