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.

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

 

Zucchini and Cheese Fritters

Our two zucchini plants have produced a steady crop over summer. There are a number of my favourite zucchini recipes on this blog which you can find under Vegetables in the index, but I’m always looking for new ideas.

The original recipe for these fritters (from Delicious magazine) uses Halloumi cheese, which is what I used and they were delicious. But some of my readers, living in South America for example, can’t buy Halloumi and even Feta is not easy to find. I reckon pretty much any cheese would work and I look forward to readers’ comments telling me what they used.

I would be lost without my Magimix which has a large 0.5cm grating disc that makes quick work of the grating. It didn’t come with the standard attachments – I had to buy it separately – but it’s proved to be invaluable.

About 700g zucchinis (see note below), coarsely grated
1 tsp salt
100g ham (preferably smoked) chopped (optional – leave out for vegetarians)
250g coarsely grated or crumbled cheese (Halloumi, Feta, Goat’s cheese, Cheddar)
2/3 cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup plain flour
2 eggs
½ cup chopped dill (use parsley if not available)
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 Tbs olive oil plus extra for frying
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Green Goddess Dressing
1 cup each of mint, dill, parsley and tarragon leaves (see note below)
1 Tbs lemon juice
½ cup sour cream
½ cup thick Greek yoghurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To serve:
Salad leaves and sliced radishes

Place zucchini in a colander with the salt, mix it through with your hand then leave to stand in the sink for half an hour. Squeeze out as much of the liquid with your hand.

In a large bowl place zucchini, ham, cheese, flours, eggs, dill, chilli flakes, pepper and the 1 Tbs oil and mix thoroughly.

Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the fritters, 3 or 4 at a time until golden brown on both sides, flattening slightly with the spatula. Drain on paper towels and keep warm while you cook the rest. Add a little more oil for each batch and use about 3 Tbs or so of mixture for each fritter.

To make the sauce, place all ingredients in food processor and whiz till smooth.

Serve fritters garnished with some salad – I used rocket and radishes but you can use anything you have available. Pass the sauce in a jug.

Makes at least 12 fritters serving 4-6

Notes:
I used one large zucchini which weighed around a kilo. I cut it lengthwise into four and then removed and discarded all the seeds. With smaller zucchini there’s no need to do this.

If you don’t have all 4 herbs for the sauce, use more of the ones you have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

Vietnamese Rice Paper Rolls

These rice paper rolls make a refreshing aperitif or light dinner.  There’s no cooking involved making them the perfect choice for a hot summer’s evening when everyone is feeling lazy, even the cook.

The rolls can be made up to three hours ahead and kept in the fridge, covered with plastic wrap, so they don’t dry out. Vary the ingredients according to what you have on hand.

100g vermicelli noodles
350g cooked prawns, cut in halves horizontally
½ cup each coarsely chopped coriander and Vietnamese or ordinary mint
1 Lebanese cucumber or half a telegraph cucumber, cut into matchsticks
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
10 rice paper wrappers (approx)
Dipping Sauce:
1 clove garlic, peeled
30g palm sugar or brown sugar
4 Tbs lime or lemon juice
3 Tbs fish sauce
1 small red chilli, thinly sliced
To garnish:
Vietnamese mint or ordinary mint

Place vermicelli in a bowl and pour over boiling water to cover. Stand for 2-4 minutes or until tender, then drain well. Use scissors to roughly cut the vermicelli into shorter lengths then place them in a bowl with the prawns, mint, cucumber and spring onion. Season to taste.

For the dipping sauce, pound garlic and sugar to a paste in a mortar and pestle then mix in the remaining ingredients. If preferred, instead of making the dipping sauce serve the rolls with store bought Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce.

Fill a bowl with hot water. Working with one rice wrapper at a time, submerge in water to soften for about 20 seconds, then place on a damp tea towel. Spoon some of the prawn filling down the centre, fold in the ends, then roll up tightly to form a cylinder. Place on a tray lined with non-stick baking paper and cover with a damp tea towel. When you have made them all serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time, up to 3 hours.

Serve 2 or 3 rolls per person, with the dipping sauce and mint.

Makes about 10 rolls

Note: rice paper wrappers are sold in most supermarkets and Asian grocery stores.

Gratin of Eggplant

I’ve had this recipe for decades, but haven’t made it for some time.

In the meantime I read somewhere that salting and draining eggplants to remove bitterness is a waste of time, so I don’t bother any more. Removing that stage from the recipe speeds things up.

To make it even quicker, use a jar of bought tomato passata instead of the tomato sauce.

IMG_1648

2-3 eggplants (aubergines) (about 800g)
olive oil
2 eggs
½ cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Tomato Sauce:
1 Tbs olive oil
1 small onion or half a large one, finely chopped
400g tomatoes, peeled and chopped or 1 (410g) can chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp sugar
Topping:
4 Tbs Panko breadcrumbs (see note below)
3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 180°C. Slice eggplants  about 1 cm thick. Heat a little oil in a large frying pan until hot, then add eggplant slices a few at a time and cook on both sides until golden brown. Repeat with remaining slices adding more oil as necessary, but not too much as eggplants have a tendency to act like blotting paper. Drain eggplant slices on paper towels then arrange then overlapping in a shallow ovenproof dish, in one or two layers.

Beat eggs, cream, salt and pepper and pour over.  Bake for 20-30 mins or until the cream mixture has set. Pour over tomato sauce (see below) and spread evenly. Mix panko crumbs and Parmesan and sprinkle over the top. Bake for a further 15 mins or until browned. Serve with a salad.

Tomato sauce: while the eggplant slices are frying, start the tomato sauce. Heat oil in a frying pan and add onion. Cook gently, stirring, until soft but not brown. Add tomatoes then simmer for a few minutes until a chunky, thickish sauce has formed. Add salt, pepper and sugar.

Serves 4 as a main course or 8 as a starter or side dish

Note: Panko breadcrumbs are chunky, Japanese-style breadcrumbs sold in many supermarkets. Alternatively, just blitz a slice of stale bread in the food processor.

 

Mango and Prawn Salad with Honey & Walnuts

This lovely summery salad was in a supermarket recipe hand out. I’ve made a few changes as I always do. Perfect for the warmer weather when mangoes are in season.

Mango and Prawn Salad with Honey & Walnuts

1 red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
¼ cup vinegar
½ cup boiling water
About six cups mixed salad leaves
1 mango, peeled, stoned and thinly sliced
1 red capsicum (pepper) thinly sliced
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
300g cooked, peeled prawns (weight after peeling)
100g feta or fresh goat’s cheese, crumbled
½ cup walnuts or pecans
1 Tbs honey
Dressing:
¼ cup red wine or cider vinegar or lemon juice
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs honey
Grated rind of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Place onion in a small bowl. Add salt, sugar, vinegar and water. Mix well then leave to macerate for half an hour or more. Drain and pat dry with paper towels. Place all ingredients for dressing in a jar with a lid and shake well.

Arrange salad leaves in a large shallow bowl or four individual serving plates. Use small leaves or break larger ones into bite sized pieces. Top with the mango, capsicum, tomatoes, prawns, feta or goat’s cheese and the drained onions. Place walnuts in a dry frying pan and stir over moderate heat until lightly toasted. Add honey, stir to coat, then arrange over the salad. If you do this ahead and let them get cold they will stick to the pan, so you will need to turn the heat back on briefly to loosen them. Drizzle salad with some of the dressing.

Serves 4

Variation: use peaches or nectarines instead of mangoes.

Las Vegas Country Club Salad

The Las Vegas Strip in Clark County, Nevada USA is famous for its hotels and casinos, many of which have amazing architecture and lights.

But there’s more to Vegas than the Strip. Normal people live normal lives in the rest of the town. They go to work or school and rarely go to the touristy area. We recently visited two cousins who live in Las Vegas proper, where they both work as lawyers. It was great to catch up and to cross the nearby Grand Canyon off our bucket list. We splurged and went by helicopter and it was indeed an amazing experience.

Tom and Bob both live in houses located in the grounds of the Las Vegas Country Club and we stayed with Bob. Invited to the Club house for lunch on the day we arrived,  I chose this delicious, healthy salad which was so good I decided to try and replicate it on my return.

fullsizerender

Mesclun or small lettuce leaves
12 large slices of tomato
12 spears asparagus
2 hard boiled eggs, sliced
1-2 pita breads
Olive oil and grated Parmesan
Paprika
Chicken and Walnut Salad
2 cups cooked roast chicken, diced
½ cup finely chopped walnuts or pecans
2-3 Tbs mayonnaise, preferably home-made
Salt and pepper to taste
Tuna and Celery Salad
2 cups canned tuna, drained
½ cup very finely diced celery
2-3 Tbs mayonnaise, preferably home-made
1 Tbs finely chopped red onion
Salt and pepper to taste
Egg and Chive Salad

2 cups diced hard boiled eggs (about 5 or 6), diced
¼ cup snipped chives
2-3 Tbs mayonnaise, preferably home-made
Salt and pepper to taste

Make mayonnaise then make the three different salads by mixing all ingredients together. Use enough mayonnaise to bind the ingredients together. Refrigerate till serving time.

Split pita breads in half horizontally, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with some finely grated Parmesan. Cut into long pointy pieces then bake at 180°C for 10-15 mins or until crisp and golden. Cool.

Wash and trim asparagus and cook in boiling salted water for about 4 mins. Drain and cool. All of this can be done ahead. To serve, arrange salad leaves on four serving dishes – rectangular ones look good. Then place three tomato slices on each plate.

Find a small rounded bowl, ramekin or measuring cup which holds about half a cup. The diameter needs to be about the size of the tomato slices.

Spray with oil, fill with about a quarter of the mixture and pack down well. Tip out onto a tomato slice. Rinse, dry and re-oil then repeat with the other salads, so each serving has a mound of each. If preferred just dollop it on with a tablespoon.

Garnish plates with asparagus, hard boiled egg slices, a shake of paprika and a couple of pita toasts.

Serves 4

Bruschetta at Nico Osteria in Chicago

Cindy is a flight attendant with United Airlines and we met through mutual friends when we were all living in Paris, some 15 years ago. After a few years working out of Paris she moved back to Chicago and has been asking us to visit ever since.

At last we made it. On a balmy evening in September we walked out of the arrivals hall at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and there was Cindy, waving furiously from her open-top vintage BMW. With our luggage squashed into the boot and half of the back seat we set off on a Chicago-by-night city tour, on our way to Cindy’s centrally-located apartment.

Cindy has been just about everywhere and I don’t only just mean United Airlines destinations. I mean from Anchorage to Timbuktu. When she visits a city she leaves no stone unturned. Tuesdays the museums are free, she said, so the morning after we arrived we crossed the Museum of Contemporary Art off the long list of things we had to fit into our six days in Chicago.

What a fabulous city. Wonderful architecture, a great public transport system and lots of free concerts and shows. Cultural highlights included a free two and a half hour concert of operatic arias in Millennium Park, with a full orchestra and choir. And a free lunchtime piano and violin concert at the Chicago Cultural Centre, an amazing Art Deco building which we toured afterwards. Cindy had acquired free passes for me to join her pilates classes at the exclusive East Bank Club, which enjoyed the patronage of Obama and Oprah when they lived in Chicago. And if one of the bars was serving free cocktails you can be sure that Cindy knew about it.

Cindy

Culinary highlights included a lobster sandwich at the French Markets – simple but so good – a delicious lunch from one of the many restaurants at Eataly, dinner at Nico Osteria and the $25 three course lunch at one of Nico Osteria’s sister restaurant Blackbird.

At Nico Osteria we sat on bar stools looking into the kitchen and, by asking a few culinary questions, soon built up a rapport with the sous chef. The head chef, meticulously checking each dish before it left the kitchen, Gordon Ramsey-style, decided we were foodies and sent out some extra dishes for us to try. Baskets of colourful tomatoes, large and small adorned the bustling kitchen. They were at the tail end of a tomato-inspired menu, the chef explained, and in three days everything would change.

We decided to share some bruschetta and they were all delicious. Today’s recipe is inspired by Nico Osteria’s Bruschetta with Chicken Liver Mousse, Marinated Onion and Lemon Honey. Instead of the Lemon Honey I used Tomato Baharat Jam, which goes so well with all kinds of pâté. Their chicken liver mousse had a bit of a kick, but I decided not to add chilli to mine.

The following day we had lunch at Blackbird and told the Maitre d’ that their set price menu had been highly recommended by the chef at Nico Osteria. Say no more – we were treated like family, with complimentary champagne and an amazing Lyonnaise-type salad, served in a crispy potato basket with a soft-poached egg on top arriving before our three course meal.

If you’ve never been to Chicago I suggest you put it on your list.

img_1257

 

Bruschetta with Chicken Liver Pâté, Marinated Onion and Tomato Baharat Jam

Chicken liver pâté (see recipe)
Tomato Baharat Jam (see recipe)
1 onion, halved then very thinly sliced
2 Tbs white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs hot water
2 tsp honey
Pinch of salt
1 baguette (French loaf)
Extra Virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, crushed
A few halved cocktail tomatoes
A few rocket leaves

Make the pâté and tomato jam – the day before serving if you like. Mix onion with vinegar, honey, hot water and salt and leave to marinate.

To serve, cut baguette in half horizontally, then cut into serving sizes about 10-12cm long. You should get 6 or 8 from a loaf. Discard the very ends of the loaf. Mix olive oil with garlic, brush over both sides of the bread then toast till golden on a griddle pan.

Arrange toasted baguette on serving plates. Spread each one liberally with chicken liver pâté then garnish with marinated onion (drained and dried with paper towels) and Tomato Baharat Jam. Finish with some lightly dressed baby tomato halves and rocket leaves.

Makes 6-8 bruschetta

Modern Greek Food at Petros

While travelling in the USA last month we had some fabulous meals. Unfortunately large portions, fries with everything and Tex Mex “liquid cholesterol” are still very much in evidence, but we did our best to avoid these establishments and seek out the healthier options.

On our way home we spent three days at Manhattan Beach, just outside Los Angeles, where there are lots of good restaurants. Petros Restaurant serves an interesting selection of modern Greek dishes and was one of the highlights.

For a light lunch we ordered Fried Calamari, Feta Saganaki (sesame-crusted feta with raisins and honey) and Karpouzi Salad (watermelon, tomatoes, mint, feta, honey and extra virgin olive oil).

I decided to recreate two of these dishes at home. Petros uses Greek olive oil, honey, feta and raisins, but use whatever you have. If you don’t like things too sweet cut back on the honey.

Modern Greek Food at Petros

Feta Saganaki
About 150g feta cheese
1-2 Tbs plain flour
1 egg, beaten
About ½ cup sesame seeds
1 Tbs olive oil
1-2 Tbs honey
1-2 Tbs raisins

Cut feta cheese into two rectangles about 1cm thick. Coat lightly in flour, then dip in beaten egg and coat with sesame seeds. Heat olive oil in a small non-stick frying pan and fry the feta on both sides until golden. Arrange in serving dish. Place the honey and raisins in a small dish and microwave for about 30 seconds, then pour over the feta. If liked squeeze over some fresh lemon  juice.

Serves 2

Karpouzi Salad

Karpouzi Salad
About 800g seedless watermelon, cut into cubes
10 cocktail tomatoes, halved
1 Tbs finely chopped mint
Dressing:

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs lemon juice
pinch of salt

Arrange watermelon and tomatoes in serving dish. Place ingredients for dressing in a jar with a lid and shake well. Drizzle over the salad and sprinkle with mint.

Serves 2

Variation: crumble some feta cheese over the top