Bruschetta with Ricotta & Roasted Grapes with Rosemary

This recipe is from Silvia’s Italian table, a cooking programme currently showing on the ABC. I substituted ricotta cheese for the home-made curd cheese and balsamic glaze for the vino cotto. The result was absolutely delicious.

Make up a double or triple batch of the grapes and serve over the holiday season with cold ham, turkey or duck.

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4 cups seedless grapes (red, black or green or a mixture)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs vino cotto or balsamic glaze
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 Tbs fresh rosemary, pulled off the stems
1 cup ricotta cheese
1-2 Tbs cream if necessary
Toasted baguette slices or rolls (I used English muffins)

Pre-heat oven to 180°C. Line a baking tray with foil or baking paper. Remove grapes from stems and spread onto baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil and balsamic glaze, season with salt and pepper and scatter with rosemary. Use your hands to thoroughly coat the grapes and crush some of them a bit. Bake for 20 minutes or until glazed. Remove from the oven and cool a bit.

Meanwhile toast the bread and top each piece with a thick layer of ricotta. If the ricotta is a bit dry as mine was, mix in some cream to make it nice and creamy. Spoon the grapes over the ricotta and serve.

Variation: South Americans can substitute Queso Fresco for the Ricotta

Rice Pudding

Rice pudding made a regular appearance on the dessert menu when I was growing up in England. My mother served it with jam or baked until it formed a golden brown skin on top. Either way it was delicious. Sadly most of the desserts I grew up with have gone out of fashion. Indeed there are probably a lot of readers who have never tried a home-made rice pudding, let alone made one.

A few years at boarding school in the UK put Matthew off all the traditional British milky desserts – rice pudding, tapioca, semolina pudding and custard. He was scarred for life and won’t touch them with a barge pole.

The weather was cold and miserable last week and I was feeling the need for some comfort food. So I made rice pudding and as Matthew doesn’t like it I ate the lot – for breakfast, for dessert or as a snack.

Rice pudding is such a flexible dish. Make it on the stove top, in the oven, in the microwave or in a rice cooker. Serve it hot or cold with jam, stewed fruit such as rhubarb or apples, or fresh fruit such as banana, blueberries or mango. Sweeten it with sugar, honey or maple syrup. If using sugar then add it when you cook the rice. If using honey or maple syrup, drizzle it on top when serving.

I usually zap a bowl full in the microwave and eat it with a drizzle of cold cream on top. Heaven, if you like that sort of thing.

Rice Pudding

1 cup short grain or medium grain rice
25g unsalted butter (optional, but it does make it richer)
4 cups (1 litre) milk
1/3 cup brown or white sugar (I use slightly less)
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)
½ cup cream or canned evaporated milk
To serve:
Jam such as raspberry, strawberry or rhubarb (preferably home-made)
Or stewed fruit such as apples, peaches, rhubarb
Or fresh fruit such as banana, blueberries or mango

Place all ingredients except the cream in a saucepan, Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring from time to time, for 20-25 mins or until rice is al dente. Stir in the cream or evaporated milk and serve immediately while it’s hot, or chill and serve later, hot or cold. If preferred you can drizzle the cream or evaporated milk on top at serving time.

I prefer it hot, but it’s easy to zap a serving in the microwave.  Serve with jam, fruit compote or fresh fruit.

Serves 4

Rice Pudding made in a Rice Cooker
Place all ingredients except the cream or evaporated milk in a rice cooker and cook for one cycle, leaving it on the “keep warm” setting for 15 mins or so after it’s cooked. Add cream or evaporated milk and serve. Depending on the size of your rice cooker you may need to reduce the quantities so it doesn’t boil over. Mine is quite small so I have to reduce the rice to ¾ cup and the milk to 3 cups. Also I need to stir it a couple of times while it’s cooking, so it doesn’t stick.

Rice Pudding made in the Microwave
A really good way to use up leftover plain cooked rice. While rice puddings are usually made with short or medium grain rice, because they are stickier, any kind will do. Place cooked rice in a large bowl, so it won’t boil over. Add enough milk to not quite cover the rice and sugar to taste. Cover then microwave on High for 2-3 mins. Add cream or evaporated milk and serve. Or you can microwave it in individual servings.

Rice Pudding made in the Oven
Make rice pudding either in a saucepan (according to the basic recipe) or in a rice cooker or microwave. If made in the microwave you will need to use about 4 cups of leftover rice. Butter a shallow 6 cup baking dish, add the rice pudding and spread it out. If it seems a bit thick add a little milk and stir through. Dot with a little butter (about 30g cut into small pieces) and sprinkle with a little brown or white sugar. If liked a sprinkling of coconut flakes is nice. Bake in a hot oven for 25-30 mins or until browned on top and serve with a drizzle of cream.

Fried Egg in a Bagel

This recipe from a website called Food52 is so simple you hardly need a recipe. But it’s such a novel idea and so delicious I had to tell you about it.

You simply fry an egg in the hole in half a bagel.  Serve for breakfast or lunch, accompanied by bacon, ham, smoked salmon or on its own. The recipe makes two servings, but you may decide to eat them both! They go very well with leftover ham from Christmas.

Fried Egg in a Bagel

1 bagel split in two horizontally
1 Tbs butter
2 eggs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Make the holes in the two halves a bit bigger using a serrated knife or a small scone cutter. Heat butter in a non-stick frying pan and swirl around. Place bagel  halves in the pan, cut side down, break an egg into each and season with salt and pepper. It doesn’t matter if it spills out a bit.

Cover and cook until the eggs are just set. Serve alone or with crispy bacon, ham or smoked salmon. If serving with bacon cook it in the pan first, then remove and cook the bagel so it gets a nice bacon flavour.

Serves 2

Bread & Butter Pudding with Caramelised Bananas

Matthew doesn’t like bananas or custard, especially if they’re served together as Banana Custard. A few years at boarding school in the UK during his impressionable youth is to blame. He describes over-ripe greenish-black banana slices mixed into lumpy, cold, congealed custard. You can just imagine it.

I grew up in the UK with my mother’s version of this traditional British dessert – hot, creamy custard with perfect slices of banana folded through, all topped with lightly toasted coconut flakes. Delicious.

In the early days of our marriage I tried to persuade Matthew that my banana custard was different. He would love it. But no-way-José could I persuade him to try it. I had never been to boarding school, he said, so I had no idea how strongly these culinary disasters were etched on his soul.

For the first six months of married life we lived in a granny flat tacked onto a large house which was owned by an elderly widower. From time to time we invited Tom for dinner and once or twice he invited us back. He wasn’t much of a cook and his repertoire was fairly basic. Roast hogget (somewhere in age between lamb and mutton) with vegetables, cooked in a pressure cooker to within an inch of their lives, by which time they all took on the same greyish hue, followed by a simple dessert.

As I helped Tom to clear away the dishes from the main course I spotted the dessert on the sideboard. Banana Custard. This is going to be fun, I thought.

Now it’s important to point out that Tom had quite clearly used the boarding school recipe book. And for those who don’t know him, I should also point out that Matthew was about five years into what ended up being a successful career in diplomacy.

Tom served three generous helpings of Banana Custard. Matthew glanced at me and rolled his eyes. He could see I was on the verge of uncontrollable laughter. He was not even slightly amused. Well, the diplomat rose to the occasion and you would have been proud of him. He ate the lot, then looked at me with an expression of relief that clearly said “Thank God that’s over.”

I really don’t know what came over me, but I heard myself saying “That was delicious Tom, Banana Custard is Matthew’s absolute favourite.” And with that Tom served Matthew a huge second helping.

By the time he had finished the second bowl Matthew was looking somewhat green around the gills. But he didn’t follow through with his threat to kill me when we got home, divorce proceedings were avoided and we’re still together 40 years later.

This Bread and Butter Pudding with Caramelised Bananas, from one of my favourite UK food writers Nigel Slater, is a 21st century update on Banana Custard. So delicious even Matthew eats it!

Bread & Butter Pudding with Caramelised Bananas

300g brioche or croissants
1 vanilla pod or 1 tsp vanilla extract
6 cardamom pods
½ tsp cinnamon
400ml can coconut milk
400ml milk (or use half milk and half cream)
3 eggs
3 Tbs brown sugar
Pinch salt
A sprinkle of sugar for the topping
For the bananas:
2 Tbs sugar
50g butter
4 large bananas
Zest of one orange
To serve:
Thick cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Butter a baking dish (approximately 22cm) or 6-8 individual ones. Lightly toast the sliced brioche or halved croissants until golden-brown. Arrange in dish, overlapping slightly. If using small dishes you will need to cut the brioche or croissants into smaller pieces.

Remove cardamom seeds from the pods and crush with a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin. Slice the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the seeds. With a hand whisk, beat cardamom, vanilla seeds or extract, cinnamon, both milks, eggs and sugar in a large bowl until combined.

Pour custard over brioche and sprinkle a little more sugar over the top. If using individual dishes you can fill them to almost the top, but you may have some custard left over. Dessert can be made ahead to this point and kept in the fridge for several hours. Bake for 25 minutes or until nicely browned and the custard is just set. Cool for 10-15 mins then serve with the bananas.

For the bananas: cut in half length-ways or slice on the diagonal. Heat sugar in a large non-stick frying pan. Swirl it around and when melted and caramel colour add the butter and swirl to combine. Add the bananas and turn to coat them with caramel on both sides. Cook very briefly or they will become too soft. Sprinkle with orange zest and serve immediately with the bread pudding and thick cream if liked.

Serves 6-8

Gluten-Free Seed Bread

I love dense, nutty, chunky bread and this recipe, adapted from one called Adventure Bread by Josey Baker, ticks all the boxes.

It’s gluten-free and contains no saturated fat. I didn’t have any chia seeds or flax seeds so I used something else and the recipe still worked well. Feel free to try substitutions with similar ingredients in this recipe, but don’t omit the psyllium husks (sold in most supermarkets or health food stores) as this ingredient acts as a binder, taking the place of the gluten found in wheat flour.

Serve bread thinly sliced as it is, or toasted with honey, jam or cheese. Butter, a smear of vegemite and a slice of Swiss cheese or cheddar really hits the spot for me.

Gluten-Free Seed Bread
¾ cup slivered almonds (or use whole ones, roughly chopped)
1 cup sunflower seeds (hulled)
½ cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/3 cup psyllium husks
2¼ cups rolled oats
3 Tbs chia seeds (I used sesame seeds)
¾ cup flax seeds (I used Linseed meal – see note below)
2 tsp salt
2 Tbs maple syrup or honey
¼ cup olive oil
2½ cups water

Preheat oven to 180°C. Spread almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds on a baking tray. Bake for 10-15 mins until golden, stirring halfway through to move the ones on the outer edges in.

Place psyllium husks, oats, chia or sesame seeds, flax seeds or linseed meal, salt and the toasted nuts and seeds in a large bowl. Add maple syrup or honey, olive oil and water and mix well.

Tip into an oiled loaf tin and smooth the top, The one I used is 25x12cm and 10cm deep (approx 10x5x4 inches) which the recipe filled to within 2-3 cm of the top and as the bread doesn’t rise that’s fine. If you don’t have a big loaf tin use two smaller tins. Cover and refrigerate for up to a day.

Remove loaf from the fridge so it comes to room temp. Preheat oven to 200°C and bake for an hour then remove from the oven and tip out onto a cooling rack. Wait until it’s completely cold before slicing about 1cm thick. Store well-wrapped in the fridge for up to a week. Or individually wrap each slice and freeze, which is what I do.

Serve sliced and toasted with the topping of your choice.

Makes 1 loaf

Note: Flax seeds and Linseeds are the same thing. Known as Linseeds in Australia. You can use walnuts, pine nuts or pecans instead of almonds.

Spicy Baked Eggs in Avocados

My cousin Ricky who lives in Los Angeles posted this recipe on Facebook and I couldn’t wait to try it. Eggs and avocados are two of my favourite ingredients, so what could be better than a recipe combining the two?

Choose large avocados and small eggs. Even so, you will need to scoop out a bit of avocado flesh after removing the stone to make the hole a bit bigger. This recipe will serve 4 as a starter or light breakfast or 2 as a more substantial lunch, brunch or supper.

Spicy Baked Eggs in Avocados2 large ripe avocados
Hot sauce (Tabasco or another brand)
Salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
Chilli flakes (optional)
4 small eggs
Extra Virgin olive oil
4 slices sourdough bread, toasted and buttered

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Halve avocados and removes stones plus a bit more flesh (about 1 Tbs) to increase the size of the hole. Place them in a greased baking dish where they fit snugly so they don’t fall over. I used four of those avocado serving dishes which were popular in the 70s and 80s and which you often see in second hand shops. Grease them well.

Season avocado halves with salt and pepper and drizzle a little hot sauce into the cavity. Break an egg into each then drizzle with a little olive oil Bake for 10-15 mins or until eggs are done to your liking – whites set and eggs still a bit soft is ideal. Remove from the oven, season with more salt, pepper, hot sauce and chilli flakes, to taste. Serve with buttered toast.

Serves 2-4

Variations: serve with a dollop of pesto on top. Serve with some crispy bacon.

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon & Sour Cream

Over the years I’ve tried lots of recipes for potato cakes, latkes and rostis. Some used whole eggs and plain flour, while others used none of the above. None of them have ever quite hit the mark.

This recipe, based on one from Yotam Ottolenghi, uses egg whites and cornflour and from now on I won’t use any other. He uses a combination of grated potatoes and parsnip, but I used all potatoes and they were delicious. Ottolenghi says to use Desiree potatoes. I used Kipflers from the garden, because that’s what I had, and they worked well.

Serve one potato cake as a starter, or two as a light lunch or supper, perhaps accompanied by a cucumber salad. The potato cakes are best served immediately, but you can make them ahead and reheat them briefly in a hot oven.

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon & Sour Cream500-600g peeled potatoes, coarsely grated
2 egg whites
1 rounded Tbs cornflour
1 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs snipped chives
40g butter
4 Tbs vegetable oil
To serve:
Smoked Salmon
Sour Cream
Chives

Tip grated potatoes onto a clean tea towel, draw in the sides and squeeze to remove as much moisture as possible. Place potatoes in a bowl with the egg whites, cornflour, salt, pepper and chives and mix well.

Heat half the butter and half the oil in a medium non-stick frying pan. Make three or four potato cakes using about 3 Tbs of mixture for each and about half the mixture. Cook for 2-4 mins each side over medium heat, or until golden brown and cooked through. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven. Add remaining butter and oil to the pan and make three or four more potato cakes.

Serve potato cakes (one or two per person) topped with smoked salmon, sour cream and a couple of chives.

Makes 6-8 potato cakes

No-Knead No-Cross Buns

There’s nothing quite like home-made Hot Cross Buns for breakfast over the Easter weekend. Serve them warm straight from the oven. Or make them ahead and reheat them in a moderate oven. Or split and toast them.

In an attempt to save time I thought I would see if the No-Knead Bread recipe could be adapted to make Hot Cross Buns. You always need more yeast when you’re adding fruit, sugar, butter and eggs to a basic bread dough, so I doubled the amount used in the No Knead Bread recipe.

Putting crosses on the buns is a bit fiddly so I didn’t bother and can assure you they taste just as good without! Technically this recipe is not quick because you leave the dough to prove overnight. But the actual work involved takes no more than five or ten minutes.

Basic yeast mixture:
4 cups plain flour
½ tsp dry yeast unnamed
1½ cups warm water
1 tsp salt
Additions:
60g butter at room temp (I used spreadable butter)
1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp each ground cinnamon, mixed spice and ground ginger
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup sultanas
¼ cup dried mixed peel (optional) or use more sultanas
Extra flour as needed
Glaze:
1 Tbs cold water
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp powdered gelatine

In a large mixing bowl mix all ingredients for yeast mixture with a spoon until well combined. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave overnight. Next day – whenever you are ready – mix butter, sugar, spices and egg into the yeast mixture, using electric beaters. Lastly mix in the fruit then tip mixture onto a well-floured surface.

Knead just enough to incorporate a bit more flour and get rid of excessive stickiness, then cut the dough into 12 even pieces. Form into balls and arrange in a greased 10-12″ (25+cm) round tin or use a rectangular one. Leave to rise for an hour or two, then bake in a pre-heated oven at 220ºC for 20 mins. Remove from the oven and brush with hot glaze while hot. Serve warm or toasted split in two and spread with butter.

Glaze: place cold water and sugar in a small bowl and sprinkle with gelatine. Zap in the microwave for 20 secs on High.

Makes 12 buns

Note: can be frozen, but best frozen without glaze then thawed, reheated in a moderate oven and brushed with glaze while hot. Made in this way the buns all stick together and need to be broken apart. If preferred bake them on a larger biscuit tray, leaving more space between each one, so they don’t stick together.

Black Pudding with Scallops, Pea Purée and Crispy Bacon

Black pudding is traditionally eaten in Britain, Ireland and Scandinavia. They also eat it in France and Spain that I know of and several other European countries probably have something similar. It’s basically a sausage made from pork blood, oatmeal and spices.

In the UK where I grew up black pudding was usually served as part of a traditional cooked breakfast, with fried eggs, bacon and mushrooms. It is in fact fully cooked when you buy it, but the flavour and appearance is improved by crisping it up in a frying pan.

In the 1880s a butcher in the West of Ireland called Edward Twomey made his own black pudding which he called after the rural town where he lived. Clonakilty black pudding is still going strong today, with the secret spice blend being handed down through the generations. The recipe was recently shared with an Australian producer, so if you would like to try some please call Cheryl Walsh on 0406 293 691. At the moment they have black pudding and white pudding – which contains pork meat and suet but no blood – with traditional Irish sausages due to be launched mid-February.

We were recently given a Clonakilty black pudding by some Irish friends to try. Black pudding and scallops is a flavour combination which goes together extremely well. So that was my starting point in creating this dish.

The “nutty” black pudding provided a perfect contrast to the creamy scallops, while the pea puree added just the right amount of sweetness – as well as a splash of colour – and the bacon provided a touch of crispy saltiness. Delicious.

Black Pudding with Scallops, Pea Puree and Crispy Bacon2 cups frozen peas
6 large scallops without roe
1 Tbs vegetable or olive oil
3 slices bacon, rind removed, finely diced
6 slices black pudding about 1.5cm thick (about 150g)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
50g butter

Cook peas in boiling salted water until tender. Dry scallops thoroughly with paper towels and season lightly. Heat oil in a medium-sized frying pan and cook bacon until crispy, stirring from time to time. Remove and drain on paper towels. In the bacon fat remaining in the pan, fry black pudding for a minute or two on both sides. Remove and put with the bacon. Lastly cook the scallops for a minute or two each side, or until golden brown.

Drain peas then whiz in food processor with butter, salt and pepper to taste until fairly smooth. Place three dollops of pea puree on two serving plates. Top each with a slice of black pudding and a scallop. Garnish with the bacon and serve immediately.

Note: if liked pass pea purée through a sieve to make if smoother, but I quite like it slightly chunky.

Serves 2

Chef Gogh’s Mango with Sticky Rice & Coconut Milk

A couple of years ago we spent a week at the Sarojin in Khao Lak, an hour and a half north of Phuket in Thailand, on our way back from a holiday in Europe. We had such a great time that this year we went back.

Since our first visit to the Sarojin Chef Gogh has been a subscriber to Café Cat. Sometimes he makes one of my desserts, turning it into a five star masterpiece and sends me a photo.

This time it was Gogh’s turn to teach me some Thai recipes. He arranged a private cooking class where I learnt how to remove the bones from a whole snapper, while leaving it intact, so you can’t tell.  Here you can see me working under close supervision from Gogh, looking very professional with a hat they lent me.

I’m not going to include the fish recipe here because removing all the bones without cutting the skin is too hard to explain in writing – you need to watch someone do it, then do it yourself straight away. I made lots of notes and hope I can do it on my own, when the time comes! You need a whole ungutted fish and unless you catch your own they’re hard to find in Australia.

Sous-chef  Steamer

Mango with Sticky Rice and Coconut Milk is my favourite Thai dessert. It’s often too sweet for my taste but Gogh’s version combines the natural sweetness of the mango with slightly sweet sticky rice and a salty coconut sauce. It’s sublime, so I ordered it for breakfast most mornings while we were staying at the Sarojin. I have slightly adjusted his recipe to use a rice cooker. If preferred, steam the rice in the traditional Thai way, then mix in the coconut milk and sugar when it’s cooked. The Sarojin serves the sticky rice in a cone made from a banana leaf. I used an ice cream scoop instead.

Chef Gogh's Mango with Sticky Rice & Coconut Milk1 cup glutinous (sticky) rice
1-2 Tbs sugar, to taste
1 can coconut cream or milk (400ml), not shaken
salt to taste
2 ripe mangoes
Lightly toasted sesame seeds

Place rice in a bowl, cover with cold water and leave to soak for several hours or overnight. Drain in a sieve then place in a rice cooker with 1 cup water. Open coconut cream or milk – cream is better as it’s thicker, but milk will do. Using a spoon, remove about 1 cup (250ml) from the top of the can – the thicker part – and reserve till serving time. Add what’s left in the tin to the rice cooker with sugar and about ½ tsp salt. Mix well, then switch on rice cooker. When rice is cooked switch off the machine and leave till cool, then cover and keep in the fridge.

To serve, cut the four cheeks from the two mangoes. Score flesh into diagonal squares, then bend back the skin as shown in photo. Arrange mango halves on four serving plates. Mix reserved coconut cream with salt to taste then divide between 4 small individual dishes or small glasses and place next to the mango. Using a lightly-oiled ice cream scoop place a scoop of sticky rice on each plate and garnish with the sesame seeds. There will be rice left over. If preferred serve rice in individual dishes and spoon some of the coconut cream on top, then sprinkle with the sesame seeds. You can also serve it all in one dish, with the cubed or sliced mango on top.

Serves 4