Japanese Raw Fish Salad

We went to a Japanese restaurant in Bangkok last month which served delicious, light and very reasonably-priced food. I ordered a raw fish salad, which was a generous main course size and cost around $10. It was so delicious we went back, I ordered it again and decided to recreate it when we got back.

This is a recipe for people who like raw fish. Buy very fresh, sashimi quality and discard any fibrous, stringy bits as you cut it up. While the idea of fake crab stick is an anathema to many people, that’s what they used in Bangkok and I was pleasantly surprised. It added a touch of sweetness to the flavour combination. If preferred substitute cooked crab or leave it out and use a bit more fish.

The salad was topped with about two tablespoons of salmon caviar. These salty little delicacies explode in your mouth and really make the dish. They must be much cheaper in Thailand than they are in Australia where they retail for over $30 for a 100g jar. In this country there’s no way you could be so generous with the caviar and only charge $10 for the dish. You can buy red fake caviar in most supermarkets for a fraction of the cost, but it’s not the same thing and to be avoided.

About 8-10 cups small salad leaves
350 firm white fish, cut into fat matchsticks
350 salmon, cut into fat matchsticks
200g crab sticks, cut into fine julienne
Sauce:
1 cup mayonnaise (preferably home-made)
¼ cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
Juice of 1 lemon
Tabasco or hot chilli sauce, to taste
Garnish:
1 small jar salmon caviar

Arrange salad leaves on 4 large or 8 small plates. Arrange the fish and crab sticks on top in layers.

Mix all ingredients for sauce. Drizzle over the salads and garnish with the salmon caviar.

Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a starter

Asian Style Kingfish Ceviche

When we were in Newcastle recently we dined at a restaurant called Sprout. The Kingfish Ceviche ordered by one of our party was so good we all had a taste!  I decided to try and recreate it on return to Canberra. I added the pink peppercorns (see note below) which were a definite plus to the flavour and colour combination.

Asian Style Kingfish Ceviche

300g Kingfish fillets (or other firm white fish)
Juice of 1 lime or half a large lemon
1 small bulb of fennel, trimmed and thinly shaved
3-5 radishes (depending on size) thinly shaved
2 spring onions, very finely sliced on the diagonal
4 stalks asparagus, blanched and cut into 2-3cm lengths
2-3 tsp very finely sliced lemon grass
1 cup coconut milk
2-4 tsp fish sauce, to taste
2 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp finely chopped fresh chilli (or to taste)
2 tsp brown sugar
1 Tbs vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To garnish:
Pink peppercorns

Cut fish into bit size slices and mix with the lime or lemon juice. If you like your ceviche very lemony add more lemon juice. To blanch the asparagus, cook them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes then refresh under cold water, drain and pat dry with paper towel.

Leave fish for an hour or so, stirring from time to time, then mix in remaining ingredients, keeping some fennel, radish and asparagus for garnish. Season to taste then arrange on serving plates and garnish with the reserved vegetables and a few pink peppercorns.

Serves 6 as a starter

Note: A pink peppercorn (baie rose in French) is the dried berry of the Peruvian Peppertree. They were so-named because they look like peppercorns. The flavour is aromatic and only slightly peppery. They go well with all kinds of fish dishes, including Gravlax and smoked salmon. Available at specialty shops such as The Essential Ingredient.

Latte Panna Cottas with Chocolate Hazelnut Chews

The recipe for these little coffee desserts was given to me by the wife of a British diplomat. By the time we met, Mary and her husband had had several postings, including one to a remote African country where entertaining was something of a challenge. Finding the ingredients for a Western-style dinner party and explaining to the local staff exactly what she wanted had not been easy for Mary. Sometimes things were simply lost in translation.

Every time they entertained the food was inevitably served cold or at best lukewarm. Mary’s house boy Robert said that the cook was not to blame. The distance to the dining room was the problem. By the time the food had made that long journey along the hall from the kitchen, of course it was cold.

Mary persuaded the Embassy to fund the installation of a serving hatch, so the food could be passed directly from the kitchen to the dining room and hopefully arrive on everyone’s plates before it got cold.

In due course the hatch was installed. When the next dinner party was arranged Mary instructed Robert that from now on everything was to come through the new hatch. He seemed somewhat reluctant, but Mary said that it had cost a lot of money and her husband would be very cross if he didn’t use it. Robert was a likeable fellow in his twenties who tried hard to please.

When the guests sat down the cold starters were already on the table. Mary sat with her back to the serving hatch, while her husband sat at the other end of the long table. In due course the plates from the starter were cleared away. Polite diplomatic conversation continued as they waited for the main course.

Some of the guests began to giggle. Mary wondered if there was some joke that she had missed. People seemed to be looking at something behind her. She turned around to see Robert climbing through the hatch, a large serving dish balanced precariously in his free hand.

Mary wanted everything to come through the hatch and so it did.
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Panna Cottas:
250ml milk
300ml cream
¼ to ½ cup sugar (to taste)
2 shots Espresso coffee (see note below)
1 Tbs gelatine
4 Tbs water
Chocolate Hazelnut Chews:
4 large egg whites
3 pinches salt
1½ cups icing sugar
1 cup cocoa powder
150g blanched hazelnuts, roughly chopped in food processor
Extra whole blanched hazelnuts
To serve:
Grated dark chocolate
Pouring cream (optional)

Place milk, cream, sugar and coffee in a saucepan and bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile place gelatine and water in a small bowl then zap in the microwave briefly to dissolve. Mix gelatine mixture into coffee mixture then divide among 6 small ramekins, coffee cups or glasses. Chill for several hours or overnight.

For the Hazelnut Chews, preheat oven to 180°C. With electric beaters whip egg whites and salt until soft peaks, then gradually beat in the sugar until you have a thick, glossy meringue. Beat in the cocoa then fold in the chopped nuts. Line a biscuit tray with baking paper and place tablespoons of mixture onto the tray with a little space for spreading, though they won’t spread much. Top each biscuit with a whole hazelnut then bake for 15-20 mins. Mine were done in 15 mins and to be chewy you don’t want them overcooked. Makes about 15.

Serve panna cottas sprinkled with a little grated chocolate, with the hazelnut chews and pouring cream in a jug.

Serves 6

Note: if preferred use 125ml hot water and 1 Tbs instant coffee granules

Plum Puddings with Vanilla Ice Cream

Cooking classes were part of the weekly schedule at the all girls Grammar school I attended in the UK. In the first lesson, when I was 11, we made cheese on toast which we polished off immediately and in the second we made cauliflower cheese. After that they all blur into one. Each week I headed off on the school bus with the ingredients packed into my school bag and returned home with what was often destined to be the family’s evening meal, sitting precariously on my knees.

When I left school 7 years later I had covered all the basics – pastries, breads, sauces and cakes, roasting, steaming, braising and more. We also learnt about nutrition, planning meals for people on special diets such as the elderly or diabetics, writing shopping lists and sticking to a very tight work schedule. Finishing on time with the table set, the food ready to serve and all the washing up done was a requirement when we had practical examinations. I often wonder what happened to my somewhat unpredictable classmate Janet Richardson. She could produce a great meal or a clean kitchen, but not both. Her work station looked as if a bomb had hit it when we were told that time was up.

I now realise how lucky we were to have this training. A surprising number of kids leave home these days with few cooking skills. This means they spend a fortune eating out or survive on takeaways. Small wonder that obesity is on the increase. When a friend of one of our offspring got married he and his new wife wandered around a supermarket for half an hour studying the shelves and came out with a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a packet of spaghetti and a jar of Paul Newman’s spaghetti sauce. Neither of them felt confident to buy anything else which needed cooking.

When I see blood plums in the shops I get the urge to make a recipe by Stephanie Alexander which she calls Mieze’s Plum Cake. It makes quite a big cake, so here I’ve fiddled around with the quantities to end up with about half the original recipe (but not exactly) and used it to make 8 individual puddings.

At school we were taught that once self-raising flour has come into contact with liquids the dish needs to go into the oven immediately, because the baking powder starts to work. However, I left these little plum puddings on the side, ready to bake, for an hour or two before they went in the oven and they were perfect. I didn’t want to be mixing cakes once our guests had arrived.

Plum Puddings with Vanilla Ice Cream

Cake:
4 large blood plums (dark red or purple inside)
125g butter at room temp
½ cup sugar
1 cup walnut or pecan halves
2 eggs
1 cup self-raising flour, sieved
2 Tbs milk
pinch salt
1 tsp vanilla essence
Topping:
1 egg
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs flour
½ tsp ground cinnamon
To serve:
Icing sugar
Vanilla ice cream

Butter 8 individual pudding dishes and arrange on a baking tray. Or you can use large non-stick muffin tins, buttered well. Pre-heat oven to 180°C. For cake place butter and sugar in food processor and mix until light and fluffy. Add the nuts and eggs and process until the nuts are coarsely chopped, stopping to scrape down the sides. Add flour, milk and vanilla and process just enough to combine, stopping again to scrape down the sides. Divide mixture evenly between the dishes or muffin tins.

Cut plums in half and remove stones. Place one plum half in each cake, cut side up. Press down on the plum so the cake comes up level with it. Place topping ingredients in food processor (no need to wash it out) whiz till smooth, then divide among the cakes and spread over. Bake cakes for 25 mins or until well risen and golden. If you have made them in muffin tins, cool for a minute or two then carefully remove from the tins but if they are in dishes serve them as they are. Dust with icing sugar and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8

The Best Guacamole

Many years ago I tried a fabulous Guacamole at the house of a Mexican diplomat. It’s so long ago I can’t even remember her name, but she gave me the recipe and I’ve been making it ever since. I guess you’d expect a Mexican to know how to make Guacamole.

I had been making my own version for years, but this authentic recipe taught me a couple of tricks. Firstly, don’t puree the avocados – mash them roughly with a fork so they remain a bit chunky. Secondly, a dash of cumin powder works wonders, although if you don’t like cumin you can always leave it out. Another tip is not to use overripe avocados as the dip will discolour very quickly if you do.

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2 large ripe but not overripe avocados, seeded and peeled
1 very small onion, grated (or ¼ medium onion)
½ clove garlic, crushed
2-3 tsp lime juice
2-3 tsp olive oil
2 Tbs chopped coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded & diced (optional)
To serve:
Corn chips

Mash avocados roughly with a fork, then gently mix in remaining ingredients, except tomato. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Fold in tomato just before serving. Garnish with extra chopped coriander or a few pieces of tomato and serve with corn chips.

Makes 1-2 cups

Note: instead of one large tomato use 3-4 baby ones (I used baby Roma). No need to peel, just remove seeds and dice.

Chocolate & Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries

I’ve always been a cheesecake fan, but I don’t like all cheesecakes, especially ones which are dry. This one is rich and creamy and not too sweet.

Chocolate, vanilla and raspberries go together extremely well, but if you prefer leave the cocoa powder out and just have a simple biscuit base. Vanilla paste is nicer than essence because it has the little black vanilla seeds in it.

Chocolate & Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries

Crust:
170g plain sweet biscuits (digestives, Nice, any will do)
3 Tbs cocoa powder
¼ cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, melted
Filling:
500g ricotta cheese
250g cream cheese at room temp
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence or paste
Finely grated rind one lemon
Pinch salt
Topping:
2 cups sour cream
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or paste
Raspberries:
500g frozen raspberries
1 Tbs sugar (or to taste)

Place biscuits in food processor and process to fine crumbs. Add cocoa and sugar and blitz for 30 secs. Meanwhile in a mixing bowl melt the butter in microwave. Add biscuit crumbs and mix well.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Butter or oil a 22cm springform pan. Press biscuit crumbs over the base and about three quarters up the sides of the pan. Use your hands to coat the sides and a small glass to press down the bottom – try to avoid it being too thick where the sides meet the bottom. Place in the fridge or freezer.

Rinse out food processor. Place all ingredients for filling in food processor and mix until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides and checking there aren’t any large lumps of cream cheese left. Scrape into the biscuit lined pan, then bake for 40-50 mins or until cheesecake is set around the edges but still a bit wobbly in the middle. Mix all ingredients for topping and spread over the top. Put back in the oven for 8-10 mins until just set, then remove and cool. Run a knife around the edge to loosen and  when cold refrigerate overnight, covered.

Serve cheesecake with the raspberries which have been left to thaw in a bowl with the sugar, then gently stirred.

Serves 12-16

Variations: use gingersnap biscuits instead of plain ones and omit cocoa. Serve with fresh or frozen berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or slices of fresh mango.

Pork Fillets with Crunchy Potatoes and Mango Salsa

Roast Pork with apple sauce is a marriage made in heaven, but pork also goes well with other fruit. This mango salsa can be made in a jiffy and goes well with pork or chicken. If preferred just serve it with some grilled or pan-fried pork chops. Instead of mango try using fresh peaches or nectarines.

I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to pork, because (unlike beef) I like it cooked until it’s no longer pink, as you can see in the photo.

Pork Fillets with Crunchy Potatoes and Mango Salsa

4 medium potatoes, peeled
1 large or 2 smaller pork fillets (about 600g total)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil to spray or drizzle
1 Tbs butter
Salsa:
1 mango, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 Tbs fresh coriander, chopped
1 Tbs white wine or cider vinegar
1 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
A green vegetable such as steamed asparagus

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until almost cooked. Drain then place on a baking tray lined with foil. Spray or drizzle with olive oil on both sides, then squash them a bit with a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Heat butter in a frying pan with a metal handle that can go in the oven. Season pork all over then brown on all sides in the butter. Place potatoes in the top of the oven and 10 minutes later place the pork on the shelf below. Cook pork for 10-15 mins, by which time the potatoes should be nice and crispy. After ten minutes pork will still be a bit pink in the middle (except at the very thin end) whereas by 15 mins it should be more medium.

Meanwhile cook the asparagus and make the Salsa. For the Salsa mix all ingredients in a small bowl.

Slice pork and serve on a bed of crispy potatoes garnished with the asparagus and the salsa.

Serves 4

Chilled Almond Soup

We’ve all tried Gazpacho, but this traditional Spanish chilled soup, made with almonds and garnished with delicate slivers of fresh grapes, is less well-known. The first time I tried it was at a Spanish cooking demonstration hosted by my friend Jill. Sometimes it’s known as White Gazpacho.

You could be forgiven for thinking it has a lot of cream in it, but the creaminess comes entirely from the almonds. The perfect way to kick off lunch on a hot summer’s day.

Chilled Almond Soup1 cup milk (or soy or almond milk)
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 cup blanched almonds (or raw unsalted cashews)
1 tin cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
½ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 cup water
2 tsp white wine or white balsamic vinegar
A few red grapes
Coarsely ground black pepper

If you have time soak the almonds in the milk for several hours or overnight, then drain, keeping the milk.

Place three of the garlic cloves in a saucepan with the milk and simmer for 10 mins or until soft. Tip into a blender with remaining clove of garlic and the rest of the ingredients except the grapes. Blend until smooth, although this soup does have a nutty texture, so it won’t be completely smooth. You could sieve it, but you would lose a lot. Chill soup for several hours or overnight.

To serve, check for seasoning and if too thick add a little extra milk. Serve garnished with thin slices of grapes and some cracked pepper.

Serves 4

Chicken and Leek Gratin

My friend Franca raved about this Chicken and Leek Gratin by Annabel Langbein so I couldn’t wait to try it. It lived up to its reputation and got a big tick firstly because it’s delicious and secondly because it’s quick to make.

Chicken and Leek GratinCreamed Leeks:
2-4 leeks, depending on size
3 Tbs butter
Salt and freshly ground black pepper ½ cup cream
Chicken layer:
8-12 boneless skinless chicken thighs
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs fresh or 1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp salt
Crust:
2 cups sourdough breadcrumbs (left quite chunky)
2-4 cloves garlic
1 cup chopped parsley
3 anchovies
1 tsp fresh rosemary
Grated rind 1 lemon
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
50g butter

Wash, trim and chop the leeks, using all the white and a bit of the green part . Heat butter in a medium frying pan and cook leeks for 5-10 mins or until softened. Add the cream and season to taste. Spread leeks over the base of a buttered ovenproof lasagne-type dish.

For the chicken layer, if liked cut each chicken piece in two then mix with remaining ingredients and arrange over the leeks.

For the crust, make the crumbs first in a food process then add the remaining ingredients and pulse a few times to chop and combine, but don’t over-do it. Spread over the chicken.

Recipe can be made ahead to this stage and kept in the fridge for up to 24 hours, covered or out of the fridge for an hour or two. Allow to come to room temperature.

Cook in a preheated oven at 180°C for 50-60 minutes or until nicely browned and chicken is tender when pierced with a skewer.

Serves 6-8

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