Barbecued Baby Octopus

Whenever I serve baby octopus I think of my dearly departed Dad.

Kenf

His name was Kenneth but in the family he was always known as Kenf. For someone brought up on a very traditional British diet Kenf was quite adventurous when it came to eating. He loved Chinese food and spicy curries. In fact he pretty much ate anything you put in front of him.

My parents came over from the UK to visit us in Paris and I decided to serve baby octopus. As we finished our meal I glanced up and although he didn’t say anything I could tell that he wasn’t impressed.

“What do you think?” I enquired. “Well if you really want to know” he replied “I thought it was like eating Dunlop rubber”.

Maybe they were a bit chewy, but I didn’t think they were that bad! Since then I’ve found this recipe which isn’t chewy (thanks to the red wine) and I often wonder if it would have met with Kenf’s approval.

If you like things spicy you add a bit of finely chopped fresh chilli.

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1 kg baby octopus (fresh or frozen)
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
250ml (1 cup) red wine
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs sweet chilli sauce
1 Tbs tomato sauce (ketchup)
1 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
Chopped fresh coriander
Olive oil

If using fresh octopus clean thoroughly, rinse and drain well. If using frozen octopus thaw, rinse and drain.

Place balsamic vinegar and wine in a saucepan with the octopus. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 mins. Drain, discard the wine and place octopus in a bowl with the soy, chilli sauce, tomato sauce and olive oil. Stir to combine.

Heat BBQ to high and cook the octopus for 5-6 mins, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and crispy on the edges. Serve on a bed of rocket or with steamed rice, garnished with coriander and a drizzle of oil.

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter

Roast Parsnips & Jerusalem Artichokes with Onion Puree & Parsley Oil

Also known as sunchokes or topinambours, Jerusalem artichokes belong to the sunflower family. In early winter, after the flowers have died down, the tubers can be harvested and eaten as a root vegetable.

We grow them in our veggie garden at the farm (you need a bit of space or they can take over) and while I like them, I have to agree that our kids’ nickname, fartichokes, is very appropriate. I prefer to use them in recipes where they’re combined with other vegetables, to reduce the windy effect.

Serve this dish with roast meats or as a side dish at a barbecue. If you don’t have any Jerusalem artichokes use more parsnips or substitute potatoes. The onion puree should have been a pale colour, but when the onions were frying I wasn’t paying close enough attention. Still tasted good!

Brussels Sprouts with Garlic and Chilli

500g Jerusalem artichokes, cut into 2-3cm chunks
500g parsnips, cut into even-sized chunky sticks
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Onion Purée:
2 large onions, finely chopped
25-50g butter (you decide!)
3 Tbs cream or sour cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parsley oil:
A handful of fresh parsley
A few leaves of spinach or rocket
Olive oil
Salt to taste

Mix vegetables with oil in a bowl and add seasoning. Line a baking tray with baking paper then tip vegetables onto tray and spread into one layer. Bake at 200°C for 30 mins or until tender and browned at the edges.

Meanwhile cook onions in the butter for 10-15 mins or until soft, stirring often. Place in food processor with cream or sour cream and process till smooth, then season to taste.

For the parsley oil, pour boiling water over the parsley and spinach or rocket, then refresh under the cold tap and squeeze out excess water. Place in food processor, then add olive oil with motor running until you have a bright green sauce. Add salt to taste.

Spread onion purée in serving dish. Arrange roast vegetables on top, then drizzle with the parsley oil.

Serves 6

Roast Carrots and Beets

I often make mixed roast vegetables, but sometimes it’s nice to combine just two. Carrots and beetroots go together well and look very colourful.

Serve with roast meats or as a warm salad for lunch, by arranging them on some lightly dressed salad leaves, then sprinkling with crumbled feta or goat’s cheese and a few toasted walnuts or pecans.

Roast Carrots and Beets

500-800g carrots, peeled and cut into chunky sticks
500-800g beetroots, peeled and cut into wedges
3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs white balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh thyme or rosemary
Chopped fresh parsley (or another herb) to garnish

Preheat oven to 200°C. Place vegetables in a bowl and add remaining ingredients except the parsley. Mix well. Line a large shallow baking sheet with baking paper and spread the vegetables out in one layer. Bake for 30-40 mins or until tender and starting to brown on the edges. About halfway through cooking time swap the vegetables on the outside of the tray with ones nearer the centre, in order to achieve more even cooking.

Tip into serving dish and garnish with fresh herbs.

Serves 6-8

Boris and the Barbecue

Early in our marriage we were posted to Israel where we lived in the leafy suburb of Herzliyah Pituach, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It was one of the few times in our lives that we didn’t have a dog, but our neighbours had a boxer called Boris. They travelled a lot and Boris got lonely, so he spent as much time at our house as he did at theirs. When he felt the need for company he’d just turn up and we were always pleased to see him. Well, almost always.

A Minister was visiting from Queensland with his wife and secretary, so we invited them to join us for a very informal barbecue lunch. Matthew headed off late Saturday morning to pick them up, wearing jeans and an open-neck shirt.

Our guests arrived dressed to kill in white linen suits or similar attire. We sat in the garden sipping a glass of wine while Matthew lit the barbecue. Within five minutes Boris had arrived, his little stubby tail wagging excitedly as he sniffed the air in anticipation of things to come. He could smell a barbecue from a mile off.

Boris was a friendly soul and his usual way of greeting new friends was to slobber his way along their knees. As Matthew tried to stop him and apologise Mrs Minister said through clenched teeth “It’s okay we don’t mind dogs.” Her face said differently as she studied the remains of Boris’s breakfast, now smeared all over her white pants.

Matthew poured more wine, everyone relaxed and we moved to the table for lunch – barbecued lamb cutlets and salad, followed by apple strudel. Boris was starting to be a pain, snuffling under the table looking for scraps. Matthew escorted him home twice, but he kept coming back. We decided to give him a couple of chop bones at the far end of the garden, to keep him quiet.

Suddenly the sound of Boris choking interrupted the conversation. Matthew leapt up, rolled up his sleeve and thrust his hand down the dog’s throat to retrieve the bone. Our guests looked on in horror.

You will be relieved to know that Boris survived the ordeal and went on to attend many more barbecues, although bones were strictly off the menu. In honour of our dearly departed four-legged friend here’s a barbecue recipe without bones. It was given to me by an Australian friend in Israel and is very simple but always a winner. The quantities are flexible – if you use more pork just add more soy sauce, garlic and ginger!

Candy’s Barbecued Pork Rashers Candy's Barbecued Pork Rashers

800g to 1 kg pork belly rashers/slices
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs grated or very finely chopped fresh ginger

If the pork slices have skin, remove it. If they’re very thick slices hammer them out a bit with a meat hammer. Mix soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a shallow dish. Add the pork and turn to coat thoroughly. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours or overnight. Cook for about 15 minutes or so on a hot barbecue, turning a couple of times, or until well cooked and crispy.

Serves 4

Warm Chickpea and Zucchini Salad

As I ate this salad I thought of my brother, who has been a vegan for the past few years. It’s one of the most delicious vegetarian dishes I’ve eaten in a long time.

If you’ve never tried frying canned chickpeas give it a try – it elevates them to a whole new level. Instead of the zucchini you could use broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or snow peas.

The recipe serves two as a light main course or four as a side dish, accompanied by grilled chicken or steak. It would also go well with barbecued lamb. To bulk up the salad to serve more people place a layer of rocket or other salad leaves, lightly dressed with vinaigrette over the base of the serving dish, then pile the salad on top.

Warm Chickpea and Zucchini Salad3 Tbs olive oil
3-4 zucchinis (courgettes) cut into 2cm chunks
1 can chick peas, rinsed, drained and dried with paper towel
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar (see note)
1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 handfuls chopped fresh mint
2 handfuls chopped fresh parsley
100g marinated goat’s cheese or feta cheese

Heat about half the oil in a frying pan and cook the zucchini, chick peas and garlic for 5-8 minutes or until softening and browning a bit. Add salt, pepper and the vinegar and continue to cook, stirring for a minute or so. Scrape out into a serving dish. In a mortar and pestle, crush the seeds. Wipe out the pan and add the remaining oil. Add the pepitas and the crushed seeds and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until the pepitas are starting to change colour and the pan smells fragrant. Add to the zucchini in the serving dish and mix gently. Top with the herbs and cheese and serve while still warm.

Serves 2 as a light main course

Note: I used caramelised balsamic vinegar which is a bit sweeter

Cubanos

We recently watched a movie called Chef starring Jon Favreau who was also the writer and director.

Favreau plays an amiable chef who works in a high-end restaurant in Los Angeles. The owner of the restaurant – a controlling, nasty piece of work played by Dustin Hoffman – forces the chef to cook dated dishes he doesn’t want to cook and they end up getting a very bad review.

Encouraged by his Cuban ex-wife the chef quits his job and starts a mobile food truck business with a friend, selling Cuban fast food. It’s a huge success, the chef reconnects with his 10 year old son, remarries his gorgeous ex-wife and everyone lives happily ever after.

The toasted sandwiches called “Cubanos” looked so delicious I decided to do some research and make them for Café Cat. They’re pretty high in cholesterol so I wouldn’t recommend eating them every day!

Cubanos were often eaten for lunch by workers in sugar mills and cigar factories in Cuba in the late 1800s. They are now popular in various parts of the United States, especially Miami.

In the movie they made them with Cuban bread, which looked like a wide baguette called a Flute in France. Any roast pork will do, but if you want authentic Cubanos make the Cuban version below.

I once watched Nigella Lawson make toasted sandwiches in a frying pan with a chopping board and a weight on top. I couldn’t help wondering why she didn’t jusr buy a proper sandwich press. They aren’t expensive and allow you to make toasted sandwiches with any kind of bread or wrap.

Cubanos

Baguettes or large bread rolls
Sliced roast pork (see below)
Sliced ham
Sliced Swiss cheese
Sliced dill pickles
Your favourite mustard
Melted butter

Split baguettes lengthwise and cut into sandwich lengths – about 15cm – or split the bread rolls. Heat up a sandwich press until hot. On one side of the sandwich place a layer of ham, a layer of sliced pork, a layer of sliced cheese and then a few sliced pickles. Spread mustard generously on the other half, then stick the sandwich together. Brush both sides with melted butter, place in sandwich press, close lid and cook until the bread is golden brown and cheese is melting. Serve immediately.

Cuban Roast Pork

2-2½ kg pork shoulder roast
4 tsp salt
1 cup lemon, lime or Seville orange juice
1 bay leaf
3 tsp oregano
3 tsp ground cumin
15-20 cloves garlic, depending on size, peeled

Stab meat all over with a sharp knife to make deep holes.  In a food processor or blender blend salt, fruit juice, bay leaf, oregano and cumin. Pour over the pork and rub in well, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Next day remove pork from fridge and let come to room temperature for a good hour. Preheat oven to 140°C, tip off the marinade and reserve. Roast meat, uncovered for 4-5 hours or until well done. Baste often with the reserved marinade and turn occasionally. Remove from the oven and put the pork on a plate or cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and leave to rest. This pork is enough to feed a crowd with Cubanos.

Tomahawk Steak with Whisky-Glazed Carrots

Aldi had Tomahawk steaks on special so I bought one. Never having cooked this cut of beef before, I had a look on Google and learnt that it’s the rib-eye or Scotch fillet with the bone left in.

There was a fair amount of fat on the meat so I decided to cook it simply, on a very hot BBQ, in order to render most of it off and crisp up the rest. The result was delicious and very tender.

Whisky-Glazed Carrots – an old recipe from the 1970s – and some good mustard completed the meal. We didn’t feel the need for potatoes or other accoutrements which might have detracted from the simple combination of succulent savoury beef with sweet carrots.

After a week of abstinence, a very good bottle of Padthaway Shiraz we had been saving for a special occasion, or in this case no occasion at all, went down a treat.

Tomahawk Steak with Whisky-Glazed Carrots1 Tomahawk Steak weighing 1.3-1.5kg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g carrots cut into sticks
Juice and grated rind 2 oranges
1 tsp sugar or honey
2 Tbs whisky
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs butter
Snipped chives
To serve: your favourite mustard

Pre-heat BBQ on maximum for 10 minutes until very hot. For medium-rare, cook steak for 7-8 minutes each side, then a further 7-8 minutes each side. In addition, cook for about 5 minutes on the curved long side of the steak – you may need to hold it in place with some tongs while it cooks on this third side. Place on cutting board, cover loosely with foil and rest for 10-15 mins.

Meanwhile cook the carrots. Place in a saucepan with the orange rind and juice, sugar or honey, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until almost cooked. Remove lid, add whisky and butter and cook for a few minutes more, shaking pan often, until liquid has been absorbed and carrots are just cooked and slightly glazed. Add chives and serve.

Slice meat downwards, across the grain and serve with mustard and carrots.

Serves 4-6

Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London. He then worked at the Michelin starred restaurant The Capital and later in the pastry section of the Kensington Place restaurant. He went on to become head pastry chef at Baker and Spice in Chelsea, where he met his Palestinian life partner Sami Tamimi. In 2002 their first delicatessen opened in Notting Hill. They have since opened three more establishments, selling some of the best takeaway food in London. Together Yotam and Sami have also co-authored several cook books.

Their culinary style is bold and often influenced by Middle Eastern flavours. This scrumptious salad comes from their book Jerusalem and came highly recommended by my daughter Catherine. The pan fried pita croutons idea is one you can use in other salads. You could do them with or without the nuts and use walnuts, pecans, pine nuts or macadamias to ring the changes. You could also use halved raisins if you don’t have any dates.

Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

1 Tbs white wine vinegar
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
100g pitted dates, quartered lengthways
30g unsalted butter
2 Tbs olive oil
2 small pitas, split in two horizontally then torn into 3-4cm pieces
75g whole almonds (not skinned), roughly chopped
2 tsp Sumac
½ tsp chilli flakes (I used dried crushed whole chillies)
150g baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1-2 Tbs lemon juice
salt

Place vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl, add a pinch of salt and mix well. Leave to marinate for 20 mins then drain off any remaining vinegar and discard.

Heat butter and half the oil in a medium frying pan. Add pita and almonds and cook, stirring all the time, for 4-6 mins over medium heat until golden. Watch carefully the nuts don’t burn. Remove from heat and mix in the sumac, chilli and ¼ tsp salt.

To serve, mix spinach leaves with the pita and almonds. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining Tbs of oil, lemon juice to taste and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately in one large salad bowl or on individual plates.

Serves 4-6 as a side salad or 2 as a main course

Note: Sumac is a Middle Eastern ground spice available in ethnic markets and gourmet grocers.

Baby Eggplants with Pickled Red Onions

This quick and easy side dish is originally from Nigella Lawson. I’ve made it several times and adjusted it slightly by adding a touch of honey, which I think is an improvement. If preferred just leave it out.

It goes particularly well with lamb and is a perfect addition to a summer barbecue. It also makes a tasty lunch with the addition of crumbled goat’s cheese or feta and crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Recipes using eggplants usually require you to salt, drain, rinse and dry them. This process is said to draw out the bitterness, but to be honest I’m not convinced it makes much difference. You will be relieved to hear that you don’t need to do it in this recipe. As you can see in the photo, the eggplants I used weren’t really tiny ones, but they weren’t massive either. Use whatever you can find. If you leave the onions to pickle for longer, before adding the oil, they get softer. Any leftovers are very tasty.

Baby Eggplants with Pickled Red Onions500-700g small/baby eggplants (aubergines)
3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs chopped fresh oregano or marjoram (or 3 tsp dried)
1-2 red onions, depending on size, halved and thinly sliced
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
½ tsp salt
¼ cup water
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh oregano or marjoram, chopped, to garnish

Preheat oven to 200º C. Slice eggplants in half lengthwise. Keeping the stalks on makes the dish look more rustic. Place the regular olive oil in a shallow roasting pan and mix in the fresh or dried herbs. Rub the cut side of each eggplant in the oily mixture to coat it, then arrange them cut side up in the pan. Bake for 15-25 minutes or until tender and starting to turn golden brown. Cooking time will depend on the size of the eggplants.

Meanwhile mix onion with vinegar, salt and water and set aside to macerate for an hour or more, mixing from time to time. Recipe can be made several hours ahead to this point.

To serve, arrange eggplants on a serving platter. Add the extra virgin olive oil, the garlic, honey and pepper to the juices left in the baking pan. Drain the onions, discarding liquid and add them to the pan and mix well. Distribute onions over the eggplants and sprinkle the fresh herbs over the top. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4-6

Notes: substitute other fresh herbs in season such as coriander or basil. If liked, crumble some goat’s cheese or feta over the top to make the dish more filling.

Spicy Lentil and Chick Pea Salad

Some friends are on my culinary wave length, so I know when they give me a recipe and say this is great I will like it. This lentil salad recipe came from my friend Lynne. I just added the chick peas which provide a nice flavour and texture contrast. Leave them out if you prefer. Spicy Lentil and Chick Pea Salad

1¼ cups (250g) green lentils
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 red capsicum (pepper) seeded and diced
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup sweet chilli sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ cup fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbs sesame oil
2 tbs toasted sesame seeds
Pinch salt
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained

Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with plenty of water.  Bring to the boil and cook gently for 5 mins. Remove from heat and stand for 5 mins or until lentils are al dente. Time will vary according to the lentils you use, but don’t overcook or you won’t get a nice crisp salad. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Add remaining ingredients, then cool. Can be made a couple of days in advance and kept in the fridge, which only improves the flavour.

Serves 6