Panko Prawn Balls

The QANTAS business class lounge in Bangkok is currently serving some delicious prawn balls. Light and crispy on the outside and soft and prawny in the middle, they are served with sweet chilli sauce for dipping. Very moreish.

Having read through a few similar recipes online I came up with the following version.

Panko Prawn Balls

3 spring onions
¼ cup drained canned water chestnuts
300g peeled and deveined raw shrimp or prawns
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp grated ginger
2 tsp cornflour
1 egg white
1 tsp salt (or to taste)
2 tsp Chinese rice wine or sherry
To finish:
Panko crumbs (see note below)
Vegetable oil
Sweet Chilli Sauce

Finely chop spring onions and water chestnuts in a food processor using the pulse button or by hand. Tip into a bowl. Finely chop the prawns – not too fine – you don’t want a puree, so leave a few chunky bits. Add to the bowl with remaining ingredients and mix well.

Place panko crumbs in a shallow bowl. Using damp hands, form prawn mixture into balls about 2cm in diameter, roll in panko crumbs, then place on a tray. Refrigerate until needed.

Heat 2-3 cm of vegetable oil in a frying pan or wok. When hot add the prawn balls, a few at a time and cook, turning so they cook both sides, for 2-3 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels.

Serve prawn balls warm on toothpicks with sweet chilli sauce for dipping.

Makes about 20 balls

Note: Panko crumbs are much lighter and crunchier than normal breadcrumbs. You can find them in most supermarkets.

Prawn Cakes with Corn Salsa

One of my foodie friends Karen sent me the link to this recipe for Seductive Little Shrimp Cakes. It comes from a book called Tacolicious by Sara Deseran and was recently reposted by Ruth Reichl. American-style, it calls for shrimp, which you can’t buy in Australia, so I used prawns and made a couple of other small adjustments.

Prawn Cakes with Corn Salsa750g cooked prawns (about 375g peeled)
1 egg
Juice of half a lime
1 stick celery
3 spring onions
Handful of parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp paprika
½ tsp celery salt or garlic salt
3 Tbs mayonnaise
1 Tbs juice from a jar of jalapeño chillies
1 cup Panko crumbs + extra (see note below)
Oil for shallow frying
Corn Salsa:
3 cobs corn
2 large tomatoes
1 Lebanese cucumber
½ red onion
1 jalapeño chilli from a jar
Juice half a lime
1 tsp salt

Place peeled prawns in food processor and pulse briefly to chop but still leave some chunky bits. Scrape into a large bowl and mix in the egg and lime juice. Place celery and spring onions – cut into 3cm lengths – in food processor Add parsley and pulse to chop finely. Scrape into the bowl with prawns. Mix in celery or garlic salt, mayonnaise, jalapeño juice and Panko crumbs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Place some extra Panko crumbs on a plate. Take about a heaped tablespoon of mixture and form into a small cake with your hands. Roll in the crumbs and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. You should end up with 12-14 little cakes. Refrigerate for an hour or several hours. If only an hour, no need to cover, but if longer cover with plastic wrap.

Cut the kernels from the corn and place in a bowl. Quarter tomatoes, remove seeds and dice. Add to the bowl with the diced cucumber, red onion and chilli. Add lime juice and salt and leave to macerate. Taste before serving to see if it needs more salt.

Heat 1-2 tablespoons oil in a frying pan and cook the prawn cakes for about 3 minutes each side. Serve with the salsa.

Serves 4

Note: Panko crumbs are Japanese-style breadcrumbs. Very light and crunchy, they’re a good addition to your pantry. Sold in most supermarkets – ask if you can’t find them – or substitute ordinary dry breadcrumbs.

Syrian Pita Bread with Falafel

I’ve made some lifelong friends through chance encounters – on trains, planes, buses, in doggy parks and supermarket queues. The kids say “Mum talks to everyone”, but I like to think that when two lives cross there’s a reason.

Eva Rishan works as a doctor’s receptionist and we got chatting while I was waiting for my turn. Eva was born in Syria, emigrated to Australia in 1989 and has since been joined by her parents, several siblings and their families.

Eva invited me and my family to join her family for what she called a Syrian all day breakfast. Number one son James and I went early, so that Eva’s mother Renelle could show us how to make pita bread and falafel. Renelle’s English is limited but cooking is an international language and it wasn’t long before we were both busy chopping and mixing.

The large back verandah has been enclosed with a corrugated iron roof and roll-down plastic blinds, in order to accommodate big family gatherings and keep the smokers out of the main house. Smoking – both ordinary cigarettes and flavoured tobacco smoke, inhaled through a hookah pipe – is still very popular among Syrians.

The rest of our family (three) and the rest of Eva’s family (I lost count) arrived in time for lunch. There were over 30 of us altogether, including numerous kids. The mountain of pita bread was soon disappearing, filled with crispy warm falafel, hummus and a selection of pickles and salads. My contribution was an Apple Strudel which went down well for dessert with some strawberries and whipped cream.

It was great fun to be part of a Syrian family for a day.

Syrian Pita Bread with Felafel

Pita bread
3½ tsp dry yeast
¾ cup warm water
6 cups plain flour
1½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1 Tbs olive oil
About 1½ cups warm milk

Mix yeast with warm water and put aside for 10 minutes. Place flour, salt and sugar in a bowl. Make a well in the middle and add  yeast mixture, gradually adding enough warm milk to hold the dough together. Knead dough until smooth and elastic but very slightly sticky, then leave in a bowl in a warm place – near a heater for example – covered with plastic wrap for an hour or two to rise, while you make the falafel.

Cut dough into 12 and roll into balls. Preheat oven to it’s highest setting and heat up a pizza stone in the oven if you have one. Roll out each ball to a circle about 20 cm in diameter, then bake for 5-10 mins or until puffed and slightly browned. This will result in pocket-style pita breads which you can fill with falafel and salad. If preferred, stretch the circles out into much thinner pita breads, about 40 cm in diameter, as you can see in the photos. There’s quite a knack to this, but Renelle can do it in her sleep! These are rolled around the fillings like a wrap.

Makes 12

Falafel
375g dry chick peas
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped coriander
1 tsp salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp bicarbonate of soda, extra
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
¼ tsp each ground ginger, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg
2 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs plain flour
Oil for frying (canola, sunflower or rice oil)
Sesame seeds

Place chickpeas in a bowl and cover generously with cold water. Mix in bicarbonate of soda and leave to soak overnight then drain. Using a food processor or a meat mincer, finely chop chick peas, onion, garlic, parsley and coriander. Add flour, salt, pepper, spices, extra bicarbonate of soda and oil. By hand or using a special gadget called a falafel scoop form mixture into small patties, dipping it into cold water between each.

Heat 4-6cm oil in a large deep frying pan or wok. When hot fry falafel on both sides until golden, remove and drain, then roll immediately in sesame seeds. Don’t overcrowd the pan – falafel should cook quite quickly otherwise they will be dry. Serve warm with pita bread, salads and hummus.

Makes about 50

Hummus

This recipe using canned chickpeas is quick to make and easy to halve.

2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2/3 cup tahini paste, stirred
¼ cup lemon juice
¼ cup olive oil
Garnish: (optional)
Chopped parsley
Toasted pine nuts
Extra olive oil
Paprika

Place chick peas in food processor with remaining ingredients. Process, adding enough water to give the consistency of a dip. Keep in the fridge, covered, until needed. To serve, add a little water if Hummus has become too stiff, then spread onto a shallow dish and decorate with chopped parsley, toasted pine nuts, paprika and a drizzle of olive oil. The garnish is optional, but it looks and tastes great. Serve at room temperature with pita bread.

Makes about 3 cups

Mini Leek Quiches

As an Ambassador’s wife – an unpaid job I enjoyed for many years – I made food for more cocktail parties than I can remember.

Working on 10 per person, I used to reckon that a two hour cocktail party for 300 guests needed 3000 canapes. Some people eat less, but others definitely eat more and it’s always preferable to have a few left over than to run out. The trick is to start a week or two before the event and freeze anything which freezes well, which covers pretty much anything using pastry, such as mini quiches and empanadas. That just leaves the things that don’t freeze well – prawns, smoked salmon and so on – to be made on the day of the party. A chest freezer is essential in order to do this on a grand scale. I used to keep a running tally of how many items we had made so far – 200 of this, 300 of that – until the grand total came to however many we needed.

Nowadays our parties are much more normal in size, but I still like to plan ahead. These little quiches can be frozen and baked when needed so they are perfect. You can use various fillings, but leek or onion, spinach and feta and quiches lorraine are always popular.

Mini Leek Quiches

I’ve just made a few trays to have on hand over  the Christmas-New Year period and you can see them in the photo, all ready to go into the freezer. Having collected them from second hand shops over the years, I have enough patty tins to make about 200 mini quiches. I also have some smaller tins, which produce a one bite, elegant little morsel, but they’re very fiddly to make so I usually make these bigger ones, especially now that I have officially retired from diplomacy!

Shortcrust Pastry (make twice):
250g plain flour
125g butter
good pinch salt
3-4 Tbs cold water
Filling:
6 leeks, washed trimmed and chopped
50g butter
4 eggs
300 ml cream
150 ml milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp grated nutmeg
2 cups grated cheese (gruyere is best, but cheddar will do)

Pastry: Place flour, salt and butter in food processor and process until it looks like breadcrumbs. With the motor running gradually add about 3 Tbs cold water, stopping the motor as soon as the mixture satrts to form a ball. Tip out, form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed. Can be refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen for a month or two. For this recipe you will need to make this recipe twice.

Filling: in a large frying pan melt butter and add leeks. Fry gently for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, or until soft. Do not allow to brown. Cool. In a large bowl beat eggs with cream, milk, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Add cooked leeks and grated cheese and mix well.

Roll out pastry thinly using a little plain flour to prevent sticking and cut circles to fit patty tins. Very lightly grease the tins, then line with pastry circles. Fill with leek mixture, level with the top of the pastry. Freeze tins uncovered until frozen, then cover each tin with a supermarket bag. Once frozen the plastic bags won’t stick to the quiches, so you can store them stacked one on top of the other.

To serve, remove plastic bag and bake from frozen for 30-40 mins at 180°C. If not frozen they will take 20-30 mins. Cool for 5-10 minutes, then remove from tins with a knife and serve warm.

Variation: for Mini Onion Quiches use 6 large onions instead of leeks

Makes 65-70 mini quiches

Chicken Liver Pâté with Figs and Walnuts

This recipe has evolved over many years, with slight adjustments and more recently with the addition of the nuts and figs.While they are optional I think the sweetness and crunch contrast beautifully with the silky smoothness of this savoury pâté. In fact it’s so smooth it’s almost like foie gras. As you can see in the photo I usually serve some extra figs and nuts in small bowls.

You can use any mold or dish for this pâté and it doesn’t have to be turned out. I have a triangular metal mold which is perfect. The pâté doesn’t fill it, but it doesn’t matter. If you prefer, use two smaller molds or small dishes.

Chicken Liver Pâté with Figs and Walnuts500g chicken livers, trimmed and rinsed
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 tsp dried thyme or 4 tsp fresh
250g butter
2 Tbs brandy or cognac
Salt and pepper to taste
To garnish:
250g dried figs (choose soft plump ones)
About 1 cup red wine
1 cup walnut or pecan halves
To serve:
French bread stick, thinly sliced and toasted
Or crackers

Line a mold with plastic wrap. If it’s a bit wrinkled it doesn’t matter. Heat 50g of the butter in a frying pan and cook onion and garlic gently until soft, stirring often. Dry chicken livers on paper towels. Add to pan with thyme, turn up the heat and continue to stir fry for 3-5 minutes until chicken livers are browned but still a bit pink inside.

Tip contents of frying pan into food processor with the brandy and purée till smooth, adding remaining butter in pieces, a few at a time and stopping to scrape down the sides from time to time. Push paté through a metal sieve, discarding any which won’t pass through. This is not essential but results in a much smoother paté . Season to taste then scrape into mold and smooth the top. When cool, cover with overhang of plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

Trim stalks from figs, place in a saucepan and cover with red wine. Bring wine to the boil and simmer until liquid has cooked away and figs are glazed. Stir often towards the end to prevent sticking or burning. Remove figs and cool on non-stick paper overnight. Toast nuts by stirring over moderate heat in a dry frying pan for a minute or so.

To serve, unmold pâté onto a serving dish. Decorate with the nuts and figs. Serve with the toast or crackers.

Serves 12 or more

Smoked Trout Pâté

A dip or pâté is nice to serve when friends come round for a drink or as a prelude to an informal lunch.

Most supermarkets carry a wide range of options, but something home-made is tastier, cheaper and you know exactly what’s in it. I was looking at a commercial crab dip in the supermarket the other day and was amazed to see that the crab content was only 17%. This recipe came from my mother-in-law and contains at least 50% smoked trout. It’s a real winner.

Last winter we planted a native Australian citrus shrub from Queensland called a Finger Lime. When Matthew reads this he will say “get your pronouns right”, so okay he planted the Finger Lime. The fruit is made up of tiny balls of lime juice, a bit like a pomegranate only smaller. Ours hasn’t produced any fruit yet but when it does I am looking forward to folding some little citrus balls into this pâté.

Smoked Trout Pâté

1 whole smoked trout (about 350g)
250g Philadelphia-style cream cheese (at room temp)
¼-½ cup cream or sour cream
Grated rind and juice of one lemon (see note)
salt, freshly ground black pepper and cayenne pepper to taste

Remove meat from trout, discarding skin and bones. Flake into chunks with fingers checking carefully for bones. With electric beaters or by hand beat cream cheese until smooth then gradually beat in enough cream to make it light and fluffy. Add lemon juice, rind, salt, pepper and a little cayenne pepper. Gently but thoroughly mix in the smoked trout. Pile roughly into serving dish, sprinkle with a little cayenne pepper and chill. Serve with crusty bread, toast or crackers as an appetizer. Can be refrigerated for up to a week and frozen for up to a month. For a low-carb option serve with vegetable sticks.

For a cocktail party: make toast triangles (four per slice of bread, crusts removed), and put some paté on each. Garnish with a tiny triangle cut from a thin slice of fresh lime with the skin left on. One slice will cut into many pieces. Top with a piece of dill.

Note: you can grate the rind or remove it with a vegetable peeler, then chop finely – this results in chunkier bits of rind which I prefer.

Variation: Smoked Salmon Pâté: use smoked salmon instead of trout.

Polenta Muffins with Smoked Salmon

When we were living in Paris our daughter Catherine was studying for an Arts-Law degree at the Australian National University in Canberra. She rang one day and said “Hey Mum, I’ve been thinking, when again am I going to have the chance to learn French with free accommodation in Paris?” Always a good negotiator it seems she had it all worked out. Within a month Catherine joined us in our apartment on the 8th floor of the Embassy building in the 15th arrondissement, having arranged to take a semester off uni.

A few days later the Ambassador’s butler Thierry rang. He had heard our daughter was in Paris and wondered if she would like to work at a cocktail party. We found a suitable black skirt and a white blouse and off she went to their apartment on the top floor of the building adjacent to ours.

Matthew and I were attending the party and when we arrived Catherine was busy handing out canapés to the guests. Having worked in several Canberra establishments, including Tilleys in Lyneham, she looked quite at ease. We were chatting in a small group, which included the Ambassador, when Catherine came past again with some delicious hot canapés. As Matthew reached out to take one she whipped the tray away, adding in a stern voice “You’ve had two already!”

The Ambassador was mortified and apologised profusely to Matthew. He said he had never seen this waitress before and she would never be hired again. When we explained who she was we all had a good laugh. The reason she was keeping a close eye on what we ate was because we had been on a diet for a week in an attempt to lose a couple of kilos. Daughters take their duties very seriously.

After a three week intensive course at the Alliance Française Catherine landed a job in a restaurant called Ze Kitchen Gallerie in the Latin quarter. I thought they would give her an easy job filling water glasses and bread baskets, but she was thrown in at the deep end with ten tables to serve each night. She survived and lived to tell the tale – in French!

If you need something quick to make when friends pop round for a drink, these savoury muffins take no time at all and are delicious filled with smoked salmon or gravlax. Best eaten the day they are made.

Polenta Muffins with Smoked Salmon

1 cup self-raising flour, sifted
½ tsp baking powder
½ cup polenta
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
1 egg
1 Tbs olive oil
¾ cup milk
To serve:
250g cream cheese at room temperature
1 Tbs lemon juice or lime juice
2 Tbs snipped chives or chopped dill
6-9 slices smoked salmon or gravlax
Pickled cucumber with red onion (see below)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix all ingredients for muffins and use to fill mini-muffin trays. I used silicone ones which don’t need greasing. Amount per muffin will depend on the size of the trays. Mine hold about a heaped teaspoon of batter. Bake for 10-15 mins or until golden. Cool.

Mix cream cheese with snipped chives or dill and lemon juice. Cut muffins in half and spread about half a teaspoon of cream cheese on the bottom half, then a small piece of smoked salmon or gravlax and some pickled cucumber and onion, drained and patted dry with paper towel. Spread a little more cream cheese on the lids and stick back onto the muffins.  If preferred leave out the pickled cucumber and onion altogether, or substitute a slice of commercial gherkin or a couple of capers. Arrange on a serving tray and garnish with a few more herbs. Best eaten fresh on the day they are made.

Makes about 30

Pickled Cucumber and Onion
Thinly slice one or two Lebanese cucumbers or half a Telegraph cucumber and layer in a jar with a small, thinly sliced red or white onion. Add enough vinegar and water to cover – about half of each – about a tablespoon of sugar and half to one teaspoon of salt. Shake then marinate for several hours before using. Keeps in the fridge for up to a week.

Chilean Empanadas de Pino

We lived in Santiago from 1992 to 1995 and our daughter has since married a Chilean doctor, so Chile is like a second home for us. Lots of fantastic amigos live there, as well as our “consuegros” – our daughter’s in-laws. Spanish has a name for that relationship which is lacking in English. We love the people and the country. The pisco sours and the empanadas. The wines and the seafood. And so much more…

They mostly eat two kinds of empanadas in Chile – cheese ones which are deep fried and meat ones which are baked. The baked ones are called empanadas de pino and are quite big – like a Cornish pasty or an Aussie meat pie. Most Chileans buy their empanadas because they sell them everywhere. Despite the fact that around 35,000 Chileans now live in Australia I’ve never seen them for sale here, so I make my own.

I like to make the pastry and the filling the day before. Assembling the empanadas takes a good hour and the filling is much easier to work with when it’s cold.

Traditional Chilean empanada pastry contains lard and hot water and you have to knead it like bread dough. It can be quite tough and I prefer something lighter. You can speed things up by using bought pastry – either shortcrust or puff pastry will do – and make them any size you like. I prefer what I would call large “finger food” size. The filling is like a spaghetti bolognese sauce without the tomatoes and with the addition of raisins, olives and hard boiled eggs – the three ingredients which give Chilean empanadas their distinctive flavour. If you can’t be bothered making the pastry bought puff pastry works very well.

Pastry:
500g Plain flour
250g butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup sour cream
About 4-5 Tbs cold water
1 tsp salt
Filling:
2 large or 3 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs olive oil
500g good quality minced beef
2 Tbs tomato paste
4 tsp oregano leaves
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chilli powder – or more, to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
¼ cup sherry or red wine
½ cup seedless raisins
1 cup water
About 36 black olives, preferably stoned
5 hard boiled eggs, cut into 8
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbs water

Filling: heat oil in a large pan and cook the onions and garlic gently until soft. Add meat and cook, stirring, until browned all over. All remaining ingredients except for the olives and eggs and simmer for about 15-20 mins or until thick. Cool throughly, preferably overnight.

Pastry: if your food processor is not very big you may need to make this in two batches. Place flour, salt and butter in food processor and process until fine crumbs. Add sour cream and with the motor running add water through the feed chute. As soon as mixture forms a ball stop the motor and tip out. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 170°C. On a floured surface roll out half the pastry quite thinly, as you would for a quiche. Cut as many circles 10 cm (4″) in diameter as you can, then repeat with the other half of the pastry. Gather the trimmings into a ball, roll out and cut more circles. You should get about 36 and if not you need to roll the pastry thinner. If filling seems very thick add a tablespoon or so of water. Place about a tablespoon or so of filling on each pastry circle, plus one olive and an eighth of a hard boiled egg. If you make larger empanadas then use a quarter of an egg for each.

Dampen pastry edges very slightly on one side, fold over, seal with fingers then crimp with a fork. Make sure you seal them well so they don’t burst open in the oven. Place on baking trays lined with baking paper, brush with beaten egg mixture and bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm. Can be made ahead and kept in the fridge or freezer then briefly reheated to serve. If doing that then don’t brown them too much in the first cooking.

Makes about 36

A Birthday Dinner

A family birthday is a good excuse to cook up a storm and open a few bottles of good wine.  Last weekend was one such occasion, so I worked out a menu which included some of the birthday boy’s favourite foods.

Instead of a starter I made 4 different finger foods from Drinks and Nibbles, a Marie Claire book by Michele Cranston, served with Chile’s delicious national cocktail Pisco Sour, which we’re all rather partial to after a four year posting to Santiago.  The grilled prawns were definitely the hot favourite, followed by the seared tuna, then the ceviche and lastly the watermelon and feta squares. But they were all good.

For the main we had rack of lamb with herb and caper crust, served with thyme infused carrots and minted peas – all recipes from this month’s Delicious magazine.  Individual potato soufflés, inspired by a meal we enjoyed at the Artisan restaurant recently, completed the plate.  I had to invent the recipe, but they turned out well.  As you can see in the photo, the plating of the main course left something to be desired – a result of too many cooks in the kitchen, all trying to get the various ingredients onto the plates and onto the table before they went cold!  D’Argenberg’s Footbolt Shiraz was a good choice to go with the lamb.

For dessert we had a tasting plate of three small desserts –  all faves of the birthday boy – chocolate ganache with pink peppercorns, white chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis and a salted caramel tartlet.

Here are the recipes, tweaked and adjusted a bit as usual.  I have changed the cooking method for the carrots, because they ended up more or less steamed rather than glazed as I would have liked them.  This method will achieve that.

Prawns with Coriander and Lime

2 Tbs coriander stalks
2 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 lemongrass stem, white part only, roughly chopped
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp ground coriander
20 large raw prawns, peeled and deveined (or 40 smaller ones)
½ cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp sugar
A pinch of salt
20 small wooden skewers, soaked in hot water for 20 mins

Thread prawns onto skewers – using one prawn per skewer if large and two if smaller, then place in one layer in a shallow dish. Place coriander root, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, vegetable oil and ground coriander in food processor and blend to a paste, then pour over the prawns, turning them to coat.  Leave to marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Place chopped coriander leaves, lime juice, olive oil, sugar and salt in a jar with a lid.  Shake to combine then put aside. Grill prawns on a moderately hot BBQ or grill for 2-3 minutes each side.  Place on serving dish and drizzle with the coriander dressing.

Makes 20

Seared Tuna with Lime Leaf and Peanuts

2 Tbs tamarind water
1 Tbs palm sugar, chopped small or substitute brown sugar
⅓ cup lime juice
1 Tbs grated ginger
1 Tbs fish sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 Tbs finely chopped kaffir lime leaves
1 Tbs chopped lemongrass, white part only
300g tuna fillet, cut into logs about 2cm thick and wide
3 Lebanese cucumbers
½ cup coriander leaves
½ cup toasted and chopped peanuts

Place tamarind water, palm sugar, lime juice, ginger, fish sauce, sesame oil, chilli, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass in a jar with a lid.  Shake then put aside.  Peel and slice cucumbers and cut into 1cm rounds.

Heat a lightly greased frying pan over high heat and sear the tuna fillets for 1 minute each side.  Remove from  heat, season with a little salt, then cut into pieces about the same size as the cucumber rounds.  Add coriander and peanuts to the dressing in the jar, shake then spoon some onto each square of tuna, then place onto a cucumber round and arrange on serving tray.  If you put the tuna on the cucumber first, then the dressing, it tends to go everywhere.

Makes 30

Ceviche with Coconut Dressing

500g firm white fish fillets (e.g. Hoki, Barramundi)
juice of 3 limes
100ml coconut cream
2 tsp grated ginger
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbs finely chopped coriander root/stalk
½ tsp salt
2 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal

Cut fish into bite-sized cubes and place in a glass or ceramic dish.  Cover with lime juice and refrigerate 2 hours.  Mix coconut cream, ginger, turmeric, sugar, coriander root and salt.  Drain fish, discarding lime juice and mix into coconut dressing.  To serve, place a cube of fish onto each Chinese spoon and garnish with the spring onion.

Makes about 40

Watermelon and Feta Squares

½ large seedless watermelon
100g creamy feta cheese
1 tsp sumac
6 pitted black olives, finely sliced
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs very finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp finely chopped thyme leaves

Cut watermelon into bite-sized cubes.  The recipe said 3cm but this was a bit too big to eat in one mouthful – 2cm cubes are a better size.  Cut feta into 1cm cubes. Mix sumac, olives, olive oil, parsley and thyme.  Place a small amount on a feta cube, then place the feta cube on a watermelon cube and arrange on serving plate.  Repeat with the rest of the cubes and serve immediately.

Makes about 25

Roxana’s Pisco Sour

½ bottle Pisco (about 375ml)
6 ice cubes
2 Tbs icing sugar, or to taste
½ cup lemon or lime juice, or a mixture
½ an egg white

Place pisco, ice and sugar in blender and blend for 2 minutes. Add lemon juice, mix for 2 minutes, then add egg white and continue to mix until sugar has completely dissolved. Pour into 6-8 cocktail or champagne glasses and if liked place a few drops of Angostura bitters on top of each.  Serve immediately.

Serves 6-8

Lamb Rack with Caper and Herb Crust and Rhubarb Compote

Olive oil
2 French-trimmed 8-cutlet lamb racks (see note below)
8-12 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
Rhubarb compote (see below)
Caper & Herb crust:
2 Tbs salted capers, rinsed and drained
4 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
½ cup flat leaf parsley leaves
½ cup mint leaves
8 cloves garlic
2 Tbs olive oil
finely grated zest and juice 1 lemon
2/3 cup (100g) peanuts

For the crust place all ingredients in food processor except the peanuts and process until finely chopped.  Add peanuts and process briefly leaving it quite chunky.  Set aside.  Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Season lamb racks with S and P and cook in two batches, for about a minute each side, or until nicely browned.  Rest for 15 mins then press the crust onto the fatty side of each lamb rack.   Place shallots in a baking tray, drizzle with some olive oil, then place the lamb racks on top, propping the bony sides up against each other.  (I prepared the dish to this point in the morning)

Preheat oven to 200°C. Roast lamb for 35 minutes for medium-rare (see note below) or until cooked to liking.  Rest for 10 mins then carve into individual cutlets and serve with the roasted shallots and rhubarb compote.

Note: the Delicious magazine recipe calls for spring lamb.  The lamb racks I used were larger and had 9 cutlets each.  I had also done the browning earlier in the day, so they had got cold.  So I roasted them for 45 mins, plus resting time and they were perfectly cooked, medium-rare. If the crust starts to get too brown during cooking time, cover loosely with a piece of foil.

Serves 8, two cutlets each

Rhubarb Compote
2 bunches rhubarb, washed and trimmed
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 Tbs pomegranate molasses (from delis and specialist cookshops)

Cut rhubarb into 1-2cm pieces. Place in a saucepan over medium heat with sugar and water.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-12 mins or until thick.  Add pomegranate molasses, place in serving dish and put aside to cool.  Serve with lamb.  It would also be nice with chicken, pork or ham. (Note: the recipe in the magazine used 2 cups of water which was far too much!)

Thyme Infused Carrots
2-3 bunches baby carrots
40g butter
2 tsp thyme leaves
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
Juice 1 orange

Scrub carrots and trim, leaving a short bit of green at the ends, then halve lengthwise.  Cook in boiling salted water until just slightly under-cooked.  Refresh under cold water, drain then put in a frying pan which is wide enough to fit the carrots.  Add remaining ingredients then put the pan aside until close to serving time.  Bring to the boil then simmer, turning the carrots until they’re nicely glazed and the liquid has evaporated.  Serve immediately.

Serves 8

Minted Baby Peas
4 cups frozen baby peas
1 tsp sugar
30g butter
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
S and P to taste

Cook peas in boiling salted water for 2-3 mins.  Refresh under cold water, then drain.  Place in a saucepan with remaining ingredients.  Can be prepared ahead to this stage.  At serving time reheat over medium heat, stirring.  Season to taste and serve immediately.

Serves 8

Potato Soufflés
80g butter
1/2 cup plain flour
450ml (just under 2 cups) milk
shake of ground nutmeg
2 cups mashed potatoes (mashed with some cream and a large knob of butter)
S and P to taste
4 eggs
1 beaten egg for painting the soufflés prior to baking

Set oven to 180°C and oil about 10 half cup soufflé dishes and place them on a baking tray.  Preheat oven to 200°C.  In a non-stick saucepan heat butter and when melted add flour.  Stir for 2-3 minutes until the flour is cooked but not coloured, then gradually add the milk, mixing to incorporate before you add more.  When sauce is thick and smooth add nutmeg, mashed potato and season to taste.

Remove pan from heat and add the egg yolks one by one, placing the whites in a large mixing bowl.  Beat the whites until soft peaks form, using electric beaters.  Add some of the sauce to the whites and mix well, then add the rest and mix thoroughly using a plastic spatula.  Divide mixture between the soufflé dishes, filling them almost to the top. Bake for about 15 minutes or until risen and golden brown.  If liked you can serve them now, leaving them in the dishes and just sitting them on the side of the dinner plates.  Or you can use the following twice-baked method which takes a bit of the stress out of the last-minute nature of soufflés.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool.   Line a baking tin with baking paper and spray it with oil, run a knife around each soufflé and tip onto the paper, leaving a space of 2-3cm between each one. Recipe can be made ahead to this point and kept refrigerated and covered, for up to 24 hours.

To serve set oven to 200°C.  Using a pastry brush, paint the top of each soufflé with a little beaten egg, then bake for 10-15 minutes, or until puffed and golden.  If serving with the rack of lamb, place in the oven during the last 10 mins of the lamb’s cooking time, then they can continue to cook when lamb is removed to rest for 10 mins.  Soufflés will take slightly longer if they’ve been in the fridge. Remove with a fish slice to serving plates.

Makes 10

Tasting Plate of Favourite Desserts

Dark Chocolate Ganache:

200ml cream
150g dark/bitter chocolate
pink peppercorns (from specialty shops – dry, slightly perfumed not the ones in brine)

White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry

Mousse:
150g white chocolate
2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp gelatine
200ml cream
2 eggs
Coulis:
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup caster sugar

Salted Caramel Tartlets:

8 small tartlet shells made with sweet shortcrust pastry, baked and cooled
1 can Nestlé Top ‘n Fill Caramel
250ml cream
Maldon or Murray River salt flakes

Chocolate Ganache: heat cream to boiling point.  Add chocolate broken into squares and stir until melted.  Divide between about 8 shot glasses (will depend on size) then chill or you may prefer them at room temp.  Serve sprinkled with a few pink peppercorns.

White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis: place chocolate, milk and vanilla in a bowl over simmering water until chocolate has melted, stir well and remove from heat. Dissolve gelatine in a Tbs of water, zap in the microwave then mix into the chocolate. Cool a bit then mix in the egg yolks. Whip the egg whites first then using the same beaters whip the cream (not the other way round as the whites won’t whip with greasy beaters!). Fold the cream into the chocolate, then lastly the egg whites. Pour into about 8 shot glasses (will depend on size) leaving a small space at the top for the coulis. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Coulis: defrost the raspberries and mix with the sugar. Leave for a while so the sugar dissolves, whiz in a blender, then push through a sieve, discarding the seeds. To serve, pour a layer of coulis on top of each chocolate moussse.

Salted Caramel Tartlets: in a small saucepan heat cream and caramel Top ‘n Fill gently until thoroughly incorporated.  Cool slightly then use to fill tart shells.  Store at room temperature for up to several hours.  Serve sprinkled with a few salt flakes.  This is enough filling for about 20 tartlets.

Arrange the three desserts on a small plate or individual serving tray (as shown in photo).

Serves 8

Sesame Cheese Biscuits

These delicious biscuits are family favourites to serve with drinks.  They’re a traditional Aussie recipe and were made by all the ladies of a certain age – my mother in law, her sister and my dear friend Joan Tyrrel who passed away last year. While the recipe says to use cheddar, you can use any hard cheeses, including a mixture of leftover bits and pieces! At their best when fresh, they will keep in a tin with a lid for up to a week, if they last that long.

Sesame Cheese Biscuits
200g plain flour
200g butter
200g cheddar cheese, grated
1-2 tsp dry English mustard or cayenne pepper (optional)
Sesame seeds to coat

Preheat oven to 180C.  Place flour and butter in food processor and process until fine crumbs.  If liked add some English mustard powder or cayenne pepper at this stage.  Add grated cheddar and continue to process until mixture forms a ball.  Tip out then pinch off pieces the size of a large walnut and roll into balls.  Roll balls in sesame seeds to coat them all over, then arrange on baking trays lined with baking paper.  Press each biscuit lightly with a fork and leave a space between each one as they will spread while cooking.  On a hot day it’s a good idea to refrigerate the biscuits for about half an hour before cooking.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.  Cool on cake racks.

Makes about 45 biscuits

Note: you can make this recipe with less or more ingredients, just keep the weights of flour, butter and cheese equal