Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Orange and Garlic

Learning a language is hard work and keeping it going can be a challenge.  As the saying goes – if you don’t use it you lose it. I started French at school in the UK when I was 11 and have managed to keep it going, helped by 3 years in Geneva in the early 70s and 4 years in Paris in the late 90s, ever since.

In Canberra I belong to a group called Accueil which meets once a month to speak French over lunch. We take it in turns to host and everyone brings a sweet or savoury dish. This inevitably results in a spectacular spread.

Last month Gabrielle brought a delicious sweet potato dish from one of my favourite chefs Yotam Ottolenghi. Since then I’ve made the recipe three times – the first time with sweet potatoes, the second time with carrots from the garden and the third time with a mixture of the two. They were all delicious.

A bottle of Angostura Bitters has been sitting in our drinks cabinet for years. Apart from an occasional dash in a gin and tonic or a splash on top of a pisco sour it rarely sees the light of day. It’s probably been there for a decade, but having made this dish three times I had to buy another bottle. Any good liquor store should stock it.

Ottolenghi serves the sweet potatoes sprinkled with goat’s cheese, but I think it’s perfectly nice without.

1½ cups orange juice (preferably fresh)
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
¼ cup Angostura bitters
2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
4-6 sweet potatoes
2 small red chillies (optional)
3 sprigs sage
10 sprigs thyme
2 heads garlic, unpeeled, cut in two horizontally
100g goat’s cheese (optional)
Fresh herbs to garnish

Place orange juice, brown sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then boil steadily for about 20 minutes or until reduced to one cup. Add Angostura Bitters, oil and salt.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into thick wedges – see photo. Place in a bowl with the chillies, herbs and garlic. Pour in the orange juice mixture and mix well to coat, then spread out over a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper if liked, to make the washing up a bit easier.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, turning the vegetables every 15 minutes or so. The sweet potatoes should be nicely glazed all over when done, so if they are looking a bit dry add a dash more orange juice or water to the pan.

Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with goat’s cheese if using and garnished with some fresh herbs.

Serves 6

 

Salmon Tartare with Orange and Passionfruit

This starter, adapted from a recipe I found for smoked salmon, is delicious and light. If you’re a fan of sushi you won’t be put off by the idea of eating uncooked salmon. It really doesn’t taste raw, but you could always use smoked salmon or Gravlax instead of the raw fish.

The flavour combination of salmon, orange and passionfruit is a winner.

About 750g fresh salmon or salmon trout
2 cups fresh or bottled orange juice
1 tsp honey
Pulp from 4-5 passionfruit
2-3 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh dill
Pink Peppercorns

Remove skin then cut salmon into small bite-sized pieces. Refrigerate while you make the sauce. Sieve the orange juice to remove any pulp. You will need 2 cups after sieving. Place in a saucepan and boil to reduce to about two thirds of a cup. Place in a jam jar with the honey, passionfruit pulp, oil and seasonings and shake well. Adjust the amount of passionfruit pulp and oil to taste.

Mix half the dressing with the salmon then divide among the plates in a pile in the middle. Spoon additional dressing over and around the salmon then garnish with the dill and pink peppercorns. You may not need all the dressing.

Serves 6

Variation: to make a more substantial dish add some diced avocado and serve on a bed of lettuce or rocket leaves.

Note: so-called pink peppercorns are not peppercorns at all. They have a very special, slightly perfumed flavour and can be found in specialty cook shops such as The Essential Ingredient. They go well with any salmon dish.

Pasta with Prawns and Capsicum

This recipe is adapted from one by Matteo Zamboni, who owns a restaurant in Sydney called Zambo. The recipe uses yabbies, a freshwater crustacean found in some parts of Australia. They’re not easy to buy in Canberra, so I used prawns instead. Zamboni uses Casarecce pasta, a shape I had never bought before, so I decided to try it and it was delicious. Use any shaped pasta that takes your fancy.

What makes this recipe special is the stock, made from the heads and tails of the prawns. It uses the same idea as this recipe for Prawn Bisque which I have been making for years. The heads and tails of prawns are packed with flavour, so why throw them away? It’s a little more time-consuming than most pasta dishes, but worth it.

400g Casarecce pasta (or another shape)
500g large green (raw) prawns
1 large red capsicum, cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, halved
2 or 3 tomatoes, chopped
Handful of parsley
2 Tbs toasted skinned hazelnuts, roughly chopped (or toasted pine nuts)
Grated zest of 1 lemon
4 Tbs olive oil
4 Tbs brandy
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Peel prawns and cut them into two or three pieces. Keep prawn heads and shells. Heat 2 Tbs of the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two then add the tomatoes, prawn shells (not the actual prawns) and the stalks from the parsley. Cook, stirring for 3-5 minutes, then add the brandy and set alight. Finely chop the parsley leaves and keep aside.

Add a little salt and just enough water to cover the prawn shells, then simmer gently for half an hour. While the stock is cooking, press down on the solids from time to time with a potato masher in order to extract as much flavour as possible from the prawn heads. Leave to cool a bit.

Pour stock through a sieve, pushing down on the solids to get all the juices. Cook pasta according to packet directions in boiling salted water. In a frying pan heat the remaining 2 Tbs olive oil and cook the red capsicum, stirring, until softened. Add the prawn meat and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes.

When pasta is cooked, drain it then put it back in the pan with the capsicum and prawns and the prawn stock. Heat, stirring, until the stock has mostly evaporated. Add the chopped parsley and lemon zest and season to taste.

Serve pasta topped with the toasted hazelnuts and a drizzle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Serves 4

Crispy Fish in Chilli Sauce

The first Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks were published in the late 1970s and constituted a turning point in Australian cuisine. There were very few cookbooks on the shelves back then and everyone had the same ones. My small collection included The Margaret Fulton Cookbook, The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon, Great Dishes of the World by Robert Carrier and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes 1 and 2, by Julia Child.

From 1976 the Women’s Weekly released a new book every few months – eagerly awaited by keen cooks around Australia. My friend Ferne and I made every single recipe and compared notes when we met. Home cooks started asking their local supermarkets for new and unusual ingredients and the supermarkets had to keep up with the demand.

The Chinese Cooking Class Cookbook hit stores in 1978 and sold out within a couple of weeks. Since then, it’s been reprinted countless times, selling over 4 million copies around the world. My well-worn copy, now almost 40 years old, has comments and amendments on every recipe. The price of $3.98 is on the front page and believe me, I got my money’s worth.

This is where I learnt to cook Chinese food, before I moved on to the likes of Ken Hom and Kylie Kwong. If you don’t have a copy and can find one online or in a bookshop, grab it. You won’t be disappointed. To say it’s an oldie but a goodie would be an understatement. Other favourites of mine were Beautiful Biscuits, the Italian Cookbook and the two Dinner Party Cookbooks, but there must have been around 50 in the full series. For about five years they were my bibles and although I rarely use them now, I can’t bear to throw them out.

I haven’t made this fish recipe for over 10 years and had forgotten how good it was. The original recipe has twice as much batter, but I find this amount is just enough. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

500g skinless, boneless white fish fillets
Oil for frying, such as canola or sunflower
Batter:
½ cup plain flour
2 Tbs cornflour
1 egg white
4-5 Tbs cold water
Pinch salt
Sauce:
1 Tbs oil
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
¼ cup Thai sweet chilli sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp dry sherry
2-3 Tbs water
Garnish:
Thin strips of the green part of spring onions, soaked in iced water

Cut fish into 2-3cm chunks. Mix all ingredients for batter until you have a thick, smooth batter. Place all ingredients for sauce in a medium frying pan, bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Place all the fish pieces in the batter and turn to coat. Heat about 5cm oil in a wok, deep fat fryer or saucepan.

Remove fish pieces one at a time from the batter and lower into the hot oil. Cook them in 2 or 3 batches until golden brown and cooked through. Drain fish and place in the frying pan with the chilli sauce.

Turn on the heat in the frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes, turning the fish pieces gently, to coat them with the sauce. Garnish with spring onion slivers and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 4

Five Star Macaroni Cheese

My mother made Macaroni Cheese when we were kids. Along with Spaghetti Bolognese it was our only experience with pasta back then, before Italian cuisine took off. A baked pasta dish is the ultimate in comfort food.

On a recent trip to the USA I ordered a macaroni cheese which had large chunks of lobster folded through. It was divine.

Lobster is expensive so it always seems a sin to do anything to it but eat it cold with mayonnaise. But if you´re fortunate enough to live somewhere where it’s cheap and plentiful, by all means add some to this dish. If not, the recipe also works well with prawns or crab meat.

2 bunches asparagus (about 8 stalks)
1 cob fresh corn (or 1 cup frozen or canned) (optional)
2 cups macaroni or other small pasta
250g cooked lobster meat, crab meat or prawn meat (weight after shelling)
50g butter
2 Tbs plain flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
Grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup breadcrumbs (preferably Panko or home-made)
2-3 Tbs extra grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 180C. Trim off the woody ends of the asparagus, then cut them into 3 cm lengths. Cook in boiling salted water for 4-5 mins or until just cooked, then drain. Cook the corn and the pasta in boiling salted water and drain.

Heat butter in a medium non-stick saucepan. Add flour and stir for a minute or so to cook. Gradually add the milk and cream, stirring until you have a thick sauce. Add grated Parmesan and seasonings. Fold in the asparagus, pasta, corn and chosen seafood, then spread into a greased shallow baking dish. Top with the breadcrumbs and extra Parmesan. Bake for 30 mins or until golden brown. Serve with a simple green salad or steamed green vegetable such as Broccolini, Green Beans or Broccoli.

Serves 4

Variations: use 2 cups milk and omit the cream; use diced chicken or ham instead of the seafood. Use grated cheddar instead of Parmesan.

Pork and Prawn Wontons

I was inspired to make these tasty little morsels after watching a cooking show on TV where one of the contestants made fried wontons.

I  came up with this recipe by combining ingredients from two I found online. It made 26 so I served half one night, fried and half two nights later, steamed. The fried ones were nicer but the steamed ones were probably healthier. I’ve included a photo of both. Wonton wrappers are available in many supermarkets and all Asian grocery stores.

200g pork mince (or pork/veal mince)
100g peeled cooked or raw prawn meat, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs hoisin or oyster sauce
½ tsp Chinese five spice
2 spring onions, finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg white
1 packet wonton wrappers (you will need 24-26)
Vegetable oil for frying
To serve:
Sweet chilli sauce
Snipped chives or sliced spring onions

Mix the mince, prawn meat, garlic, ginger, hoisin or oyster sauce, five spice and spring onions and season. Place a heaped teaspoon of filling on each wonton wrapper. Using your finger put a little egg white along two adjacent edges, then seal the wonton into a triangle. Bring two edges together and overlap then press to seal, as shown in photo.

You can fry the wontons in a deep fat fryer or in a wok where you will need the oil to be a minimum of 5cm deep. Or they can be steamed. If frying cook, a few at a time, for 1-2 mins or until cooked through and golden. Drain on paper towel. If steaming they will take 5-6 minutes. Serve with sweet chilli sauce for dipping and garnish with the snipped chives and a vegetable salad.

Makes 24-26

Tomato and Goat’s Cheese Tart

Semi-dried tomatoes, sold in the deli section of most Australian supermarkets, were the inspiration for this colourful recipe.

If you can’t buy them where you live make your own by slicing some Roma tomatoes in half lengthwise and putting them on a rack, cut side up, over a shallow tray in a low oven (about 140°c), sprinkled with a little salt, pepper and sugar, for 3-4 hours. When they look somewhat shrivelled and semi-dried remove and drizzle with a little olive oil. You don’t want too much moisture left in them or the tart will be soggy.

As we ate this delicious tart we agreed that toasted pine nuts would be a good additional garnish for next time.

1 sheet bought puff pastry
2 large onions, sliced
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp sugar
good pinch of salt
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
½ cup water
300g semi-dried tomatoes from the supermarket Deli
110g soft goat’s cheese
To garnish:
Fresh basil leaves
Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Roll out pastry and use to line a large metal tart tin. Prick all over with a fork then bake blind (without filling) for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile heat oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions gently for about 15 minutes or until soft. Add the sugar, salt and balsamic vinegar and continue to cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes longer. Add half the water, stir well then continue cooking, stirring often, until it has evaporated. Repeat with the rest of the water. Turn off heat.

Spread onions over base of tart. Top with tomatoes and arrange the crumbled cheese in between. Bake for 25-30 mins or until pastry is golden brown and the cheese and tomatoes are starting to brown.

Cool tart for 10 minutes, then serve garnished with fresh basil leaves (and pine nuts if using) accompanied by a simple green salad.

Serves 4-6

Substitutes: use feta instead of goat’s cheese

 

Vanilla Ice Cream with Toasted Macadamias and Caramel Sauce

I was inspired to create this recipe after eating nut ice cream with caramel sauce at Pomegranate Restaurant in Canberra.

Ice cream made with glucose (corn) syrup is alleged to be softer and smoother, so I decided to see if it was true. It was one of the best vanilla ice creams I have made with a very smooth and creamy texture. I didn’t use an ice cream machine but you can if you prefer.

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup glucose (corn) syrup
1½ cups cream
1½ cups (unsweetened) evaporated milk
2 tsp arrowroot
1 tsp vanilla essence
½ tsp salt
1 cup whipping cream (extra)
Caramel Sauce:
½ cup cream
½ cup brown sugar
50g butter
To serve:
Macadamia nuts, lightly toasted then roughly chopped

Place eggs, sugar, glucose/corn syrup, cream and evaporated milk in a heavy-based saucepan and mix well with a balloon whisk. Place over medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly until you have a custard which coats the back of a spoon. Be careful it doesn’t burn or get too hot. Mix the arrowroot with 1 tablespoonful of water and mix into the custard with the vanilla and salt. Remove from the heat and pour through a fine sieve. Cool then chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Whip the extra cream until soft peaks form and fold into the chilled custard.

Churn ice cream in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions, then scrape into a container and store in the freezer. If you don’t have an ice cream machine, pour into a shallow container and freeze until almost frozen but not rock hard, scrape into a food processor and process very briefly till smooth, then freeze again.

Caramel Sauce: place cream, brown sugar and butter in a saucepan and heat over moderate heat, stirring till dissolved. Allow to simmer for about 3 minutes then cool and serve at room temperature.

Remove ice cream from freezer and place in the fridge for 15-20 mins before serving, to make it easier to scoop. Serve the ice cream with the toffee sauce and the toasted macadamia nuts.

Makes about 1.5 litres

Variations:

  • use 3 cups cream and omit the evaporated milk.
  • use 8 egg yolks instead of 4 whole eggs. This makes the ice cream richer.
  • If preferred, fold the toasted nuts into the ice cream when you mix in the whipped cream.
  • use toasted walnuts, pecans or almonds instead of macadamias

Korean Beef

I haven’t posted any mouth-watering desserts of late. I’m trying to avoid them at the moment in an attempt to make some headway in the battle of the bulge. I always seem to be on the losing side in this battle, which I guess is par for the course when you love cooking and eating as I do. Anyway I like to think that this blog provides inspiration for subscribers wondering what to make for dinner tonight. Quick and easy, everyday dishes are the mainstay of Café Cat.

Fans of sweet sticky Asian meat dishes will like this one. Adjust the amount of brown sugar to suit your taste. The recipe doesn’t contain any chilli (though you could always add some) so it’s a good way to introduce young kids to Asian food. If you (or the kids) don’t like mushrooms leave them out and increase the meat.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
250g mushrooms, wiped and sliced
450g lean beef (fillet or Scotch fillet) or leftover rare roast beef, in thin strips
¼ to ½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs sesame oil
To serve:
Steamed rice
Chives or spring onions, sliced
Toasted sesame seeds

Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok and cook the onion until soft, then add the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring, until mushrooms are starting to brown. Remove from pan.

Add a tiny bit more oil to the pan with the beef strips and stir fry until browned. If you are using leftover roast beef this won’t take long. Add the brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil and cook, stirring, for a few minutes, or until sauce is thickening and glazed.

Return mushrooms and onions to the pan. As soy sauce is salty you probably won’t need to add salt to this dish. If the mixture is a bit dry, add 2-3 Tbs water and stir to combine. Serve beef with steamed rice, garnished with sliced spring onions or chives and a few sesame seeds.

Serves 4

Vietnamese Roast Chicken

If you’re bored with the usual roast chicken, try this easy alternative with Vietnamese flavours.

Instead of cooking it in the oven you could use a barbecue. If you prefer boneless, skinless chicken pieces it will also work, though the chicken might be a bit dry, so I suggest you add a tablespoonful of oil to the marinade. Leftovers are nice cold or reheated for lunch next day.

6-8 chicken thighs, skin on, bone in
Marinade:
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup Asian fish sauce
¼ cup palm sugar or brown sugar
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
2 tsp Sambal Oelek (or other hot chilli paste)
Juice of 1 lime or ½ lemon
1 tsp finely grated lime or lemon zest
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs finely chopped coriander (including some of the stalks)
Garnish:
Lime wedges
Coriander leaves
Steamed rice

Mix marinade ingredients and pour over chicken pieces in a dish. Mix well then cover and marinate for 1-2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge. Turn chicken over from time to time.

Preheat oven to 210°C. Place a rack over a baking tray to catch the drips. You can line the tray with baking paper to make washing up easier. Drain chicken (discarding marinade) and arrange on the rack. Bake for 35-45 mins or until cooked through when tested with a sharp knife.

Transfer to serving platter, garnish with lime wedges and coriander and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 4