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.

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

Mushroom Tarte Tatin

The French are famous for an upside down apple tart called Tarte Tatin. Apples are cooked with sugar and butter in an oven proof frying pan, topped with puff pastry, baked in a hot oven, then inverted onto a serving plate, so the apples are on top and the pastry is underneath.

This is a mushroom version. As you can see in the photo, I only had ordinary button mushrooms in the fridge. It would be even nicer with a few exotic ones thrown into the mix, but it was still scrumptious.

Use bought puff pastry or Nigella’s quick food processor version as I did. Serve with a lightly dressed rocket salad.

40g butter
1 Tbs olive oil
500g sliced mushrooms (preferably a few different kinds)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2-3 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (or Nigella’s quick version)
To serve:
Chopped fresh parsley or thyme
Crème fraîche or sour cream
Rocket salad

FullSizeRender (1)Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Thaw pastry if frozen or make Nigella’s..

Heat butter and oil in a 20-25cm non-stick ovenproof frying pan. Make sure the handle is ovenproof too.  Add mushrooms and cook, stirring for 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic, thyme and seasoning and continue to cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring often, until mushrooms are golden and liquid has been absorbed.

Roll out pastry thinly if you are not using a ready-rolled version. Cut out a circle a bit bigger than the circumference of the frying pan. Place pastry on top and tuck the edges in all the way around. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Cool for a few minutes then invert onto serving plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature garnished with fresh herbs, a dollop of crème fraîche and a rocket salad.

Serves 6

Barbecued Baby Octopus

Whenever I serve baby octopus I think of my dearly departed Dad.

Kenf

His name was Kenneth but in the family he was always known as Kenf. For someone brought up on a very traditional British diet Kenf was quite adventurous when it came to eating. He loved Chinese food and spicy curries. In fact he pretty much ate anything you put in front of him.

My parents came over from the UK to visit us in Paris and I decided to serve baby octopus. As we finished our meal I glanced up and although he didn’t say anything I could tell that he wasn’t impressed.

“What do you think?” I enquired. “Well if you really want to know” he replied “I thought it was like eating Dunlop rubber”.

Maybe they were a bit chewy, but I didn’t think they were that bad! Since then I’ve found this recipe which isn’t chewy (thanks to the red wine) and I often wonder if it would have met with Kenf’s approval.

If you like things spicy you add a bit of finely chopped fresh chilli.

IMG_0156

1 kg baby octopus (fresh or frozen)
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
250ml (1 cup) red wine
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs sweet chilli sauce
1 Tbs tomato sauce (ketchup)
1 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
Chopped fresh coriander
Olive oil

If using fresh octopus clean thoroughly, rinse and drain well. If using frozen octopus thaw, rinse and drain.

Place balsamic vinegar and wine in a saucepan with the octopus. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 mins. Drain, discard the wine and place octopus in a bowl with the soy, chilli sauce, tomato sauce and olive oil. Stir to combine.

Heat BBQ to high and cook the octopus for 5-6 mins, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and crispy on the edges. Serve on a bed of rocket or with steamed rice, garnished with coriander and a drizzle of oil.

Serves 2 as a main or 4 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.

Lobster Mango and Avocado Salad

After caviar and truffles, lobster is near the top of the list of luxury food items which are expensive, so we don’t eat them very often.

I was in Costco recently looking for something special to serve over the holiday period. They had lobster tails for about $45/kg and as a friend had told me they were very good I bought four, which worked out at about $15 each. Peanuts compared with what you pay for lobster in a restaurant.

We ate the first two hot with chive butter, but concluded that the best way to enjoy lobster is cold with mayonnaise or seafood dressing. With top quality seafood simplicity is the answer, so with the second two I created this very simple salad which we ate as a main course. Mangoes are in season at the moment and the result was delicious.

Lobster Mango and Avocado Salad2 lobster tails, in shell, each weighing 250-300g
6 cups salad greens, washed and spun dry
3 Tbs salad dressing
1 mango, peeled and cubed
1 avocado, peeled and sliced
2 spring onions, thinly sliced
1 red capsicum (pepper) de-seeded and thinly sliced
2 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly cracked pepper
Seafood Dressing:
2 Tbs mayonnaise (preferably home-made)
2 Tbs sour cream
1 Tbs tomato ketchup
Juice half a lemon or lime
Dash of Tabasco sauce

Thaw lobster tails if frozen then cook them in boiling salted water for 8-10 mins or until shells are red and flesh is white and opaque. Plunge into iced water and when cool drain, and pat dry with paper towels. Remove shells and slice flesh into medallions.

Heat olive oil in a frying pan and add red capsicum slices and a sprinkle of salt. Fry for 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until soft and starting to char on the edges. Cool.

For Seafood Dressing, mix all ingredients together.

If using large lettuce leaves tear them into smaller pieces. In a bowl mix salad greens with salad dressing and arrange on two serving dishes. Divide mango and avocado between the two plates. Top with the lobster, spoon over some seafood dressing, then garnish with the spring onion and a few pieces of red capsicum. There will be capsicum left over for another use. Sprinkle with coarsely ground black pepper.

Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as a starter

Notes: instead of using red capsicum, garnish salad with dry pink peppercorns or salmon caviar, available from specialty shops. Instead of lobster use large cooked and peeled prawns or crab meat.

Millefoglie di Melanzane

We recently spent a week in Sicily where we hired a car and drove from Palermo to Patti, Taormina, Syracuse and back to Palermo. We spent a couple of days in each of these cities, soaking up the history and visiting some amazing churches and ancient monuments in the area. I won’t go into details of where to stay and what to do – there’s plenty of information on Trip Advisor and we found most of our accommodation on Airbnb.

Lots of windy roads and a few crazy drivers made the driving something of a challenge. The weather was considerably hotter than we had expected for mid-September, so we avoided sight-seeing in the middle of the day. Nonetheless we had a great time and would definitely recommend a trip to this part of Italy.

On the whole, the food in Sicily is good, especially if you’re a fan of pizzas and pasta. Finding good places to eat other dishes was more of a challenge. Everything we ordered which involved eggplants (aubergines) was delicious – stuffed eggplant, capponata (an Italian version of ratatouille with eggplant as the main ingredient) and eggplant fritters to name a few.

Our favourite city was Syracuse, especially the old city located on the island of Ortigia. Our favourite restaurant in Syracuse was Notre Dame where we ate outside enjoying the balmy evening weather. This bistro is run by an enthusiastic young couple and serves an interesting menu including this delectable Millefoglie di Melanzane – a layered Eggplant Terrine. It was so good we went back twice and on the second occasion the chef gave me the recipe.

Millefoglie di Melanzane

Canola or a mild-flavoured olive oil
2 large eggplants or 3 smaller ones
400g red capsicum (peppers)
2 eggs
2 sheets gelatine, soaked in water or 3 tsp powdered gelatine
Salt and pepper to taste

Cut capsicum into quarters and remove stalks and seeds. Cook in boiling, salted water for 15-20 mins or until soft. While still hot place them in a food processor with the eggs, gelatine, salt and pepper and process until smooth.

Meanwhile slice eggplants thinly lengthwise, discarding the first cut which is just skin. Heat some oil in a large frying pan and fry the eggplant slices, about 3 at a time, until golden brown and cooked on both sides. Add more oil as required. Drain on paper towels.

Choose a silicone loaf pan which doesn’t need to be lined, or line a metal one with non-stick baking paper. Starting and ending with a layer of eggplant slices, layer the eggplant and red capsicum puree in the loaf pan. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Using a serrated knife, cut terrine into 4-6 thick slices and serve with some lightly dressed rocket leaves.

Serves 4-6

Salade Lyonnaise à la Madeleine

When we lived in Pretoria in the late 1980s we found a fabulous French restaurant called La Madeleine. There was no written menu so Belgian chef-owner Daniel Leusch would come to each table and explain what was available that day. His Lyonnaise Salad was introduced in the following way.

“And today, for starters, we ‘ave a leetle salade, wif a warm poshed egg, garneeshed wif some leetle crispy lardons, some freshly made croutons and ‘ollandaise sauce. Or, we ‘ave…..”

And so he would go on until he had described everything and we were left, drooling, to make decisions.

It’s twenty-five years since we left Pretoria but La Madeleine is still going strong, with Daniel and his wife Karine’s daughter Anne in charge of the kitchen. Since then my version of Daniel’s Salade Lyonnaise has become one of my favourite lunches. But you do have to be in the kitchen at the last minute, so I usually only make it for two, maximum four people. If you don’t have time to make Hollandaise Sauce substitute mayonnaise, preferably home-made. For hungry people serve two eggs instead of one.

As it’s one of the signature dishes of the French city of Lyon I ordered this salad in three different bistros while we were staying there a couple of years ago. What a disappointment! Soggy bacon or croutons, over-cooked eggs and indifferent salad greens meant that none of them lived up to their reputation. Take me back to Pretoria any time!

Salade Lyonnaise à la Madeleine4-6 cups mixed small salad leaves
2 slices bread (preferably something rustic like sourdough)
Olive oil
100g smoked bacon in one piece (called speck in Australia)
2 eggs
Salad dressing:
1 cup mild vegetable oil (e.g. Canola)
¼ cup cider vinegar
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
1 Tbs honey (optional, or use less)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
Quick Hollandaise Sauce:
50g butter
2 egg yolks
1 Tbs cream
1 Tbs lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

For Hollandaise sauce place butter in a small bowl and microwave for 30 secs. With a small hand whisk, beat in yolks, then cream and lemon juice. Microwave for 45 secs, stopping to beat every 10-15 secs. This is important to avoid scrambling the eggs! Season then cover and keep warm by standing the bowl in a larger bowl containing hot water.

Brush both sides of bread with olive oil, cut into croutons then either bake in a hot oven on a tray lined with baking paper for 5-10 mins or fry in a non-stick frying pan until golden and crunchy.

Meanwhile poach eggs until done – whites firm, yolks still soft. While they are cooking, prepare the lardons – cut bacon into thick slices, then into little chunks. Fry in a non-stick frying pan with a tiny bit of oil and drain on paper towels.

Place all ingredients for the salad dressing in a screw top jar and shake vigorously. Mix salad greens with some dressing (see note below) and divide between 2 plates. Place a poached egg in the centre and spoon some Hollandaise sauce over. Sprinkle the croutons and lardons around the egg.

Serves 4 as a starter or light lunch

Note: Any unused French dressing will keep for up to a month in the fridge so I often make double or triple the recipe. Don’t crush the garlic, just cut it in half, so the flavour isn’t overpowering. The French wouldn’t put honey in their dressing (I love it especially as I keep my own bees!) so if you want to be authentic leave it out.

Carrot Pancakes

These vegetarian pancakes make a tasty, light and healthy meal for two. Serve with sour cream or thick Greek yoghurt and ring the changes by using other vegetables instead of carrot, such as finely chopped cauliflower, broccoli, red capsicum or corn – either fresh, tinned or frozen.

Carrot Pancakes2 eggs
1 large or two smaller carrots, grated
½ cup chopped spring onion, leek or onion
1 green chilli, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup besan (chickpea) flour
½ cup plain yoghurt
1-2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 Tbs oil to fry
To serve:
Sour cream or thick Greek yoghurt
Fresh parsley or coriander
A spicy Indian chutney

Beat eggs then mix in remaining ingredients except oil. Heat a little oil in a non-stick frying pan and cook the pancakes over moderate heat, 2 or 3 at a time, using 3-4 Tbs of mixture for each one. Cook for 3-4 minutes each side over a low to moderate heat so the pancakes are thoroughly cooked in the middle. If the heat is too high they will brown too quickly on the outside and taste doughy in the middle.

Remove from pan and drain on paper towels. Serve garnished with yoghurt or sour cream and fresh herbs and a dish of chutney on the side.

Makes 6 pancakes 

Note: besan flour gives a special flavour and texture, but if unavailable use plain flour. If you like things spicy, use a small red chilli, finely diced, instead of a green one.

Potato Cakes with Smoked Salmon & Sour Cream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6-8 potato cakes