What to Eat in the Heat

The only place to be during a heatwave is inside, with the air conditioning going full blast.

While most people don’t feel as hungry when the weather’s stinking hot, you still have to eat. But who wants to turn on the oven or the hotplates with the temperature soaring over 40°, as it is in Canberra this week?

Here are a few ideas for delicious sustenance which involve minimum effort and no cooking.

Gazpacho is one of the ways they cope with hot weather in Spain. This is a cheat’s version which is made in a jiffy.

Or try this unusual Chilled Almond Soup which also comes from Spain and involves no cooking.

Buy a couple of salmon fillets (boned and skinned) and make Gravlax which “cooks” in the fridge and is absolutely delicious served with sweet mustard sauce, dark brown bread or blinis. I buy my salmon at Costco because you can be 100% sure no bones have been left. Once made you can cut each salmon fillet into 2 or 3 pieces and freeze what you’re not using immediately.

Splurge on some lobster tails and make this divine Lobster, Mango and Avocado salad to enjoy with a glass of Riesling as the sun goes down.

I grew up in England where it never gets as hot as it does in Australia. Summer Pudding is the dessert they make in the height of the UK summer, when the berries are all in season. One of my all time favourites.

And while they’re in season and cheap why not make Mangoes in Ginger Wine. The perfect way to finish dinner on a hot summer’s evening.

If you’re still looking for inspiration for dessert have a look at this article Seven Quick Desserts where you’ll find several ideas, including Blueberry Parfaits which can be put together quickly from ingredients bought at the supermarket. Instead of blueberries, try using raspberries or strawberries.

Time to go back to my book and crank the aircon up another notch.

The Tomato Chutney Dowry

My father left the Royal Air Force after the War, to help his father run the family nursery, which he eventually took over. To earn pocket money I worked on Saturday mornings in the shop where we sold all the produce. Grandpa sat in the corner and appeared to be dozing. In fact he was watching me like a hawk. The tomatoes were weighed to order and the adding up was done in your head – quite a challenge for an 11 year old. “You put one too many in that last pound of tomatoes. If you do that every time, you’ll put us out of business,” Grandpa would say.

Dad’s mother Jessie, who was from Falkirk, just outside Edinburgh, was an excellent cook. Grandpa met her when he was in charge of the gardens at Battle Abbey in Sussex and she was running the dairy. I often wonder how a young Scottish lass ended up working nearly 500 miles away from home, but by the time I wanted to ask she had been dead for many years.

My mother grew up in Malta where her father was stationed during the War with the Royal Engineers. Strict rationing meant she was never allowed to cook, in case she ruined precious ingredients. Before they married Dad asked his future bride if she could cook. She said no and he thought she was being modest. She couldn’t boil an egg.

From working in the dairy of Battle Abbey my maternal grandmother had learned many skills, including how to make butter into swans for afternoon tea. In the early years of marriage, my mother grew sick of hearing my father waxing lyrical about the swans. “If you want swans made of butter you’d better go back,” she would say, teasingly. Fortunately, Nana took Mum under her wing and taught her to make a few basic recipes, so we wouldn’t starve. Not the swans, but more practical things.

Once a year Dad would bring in a couple of boxes of  ripe tomatoes from the nursery and the whole family helped turn them into tomato chutney, using an old family recipe.

Matthew and I met in Geneva when he was working for the Australian Mission to the UN and I was working for the British FCO. He had recently broken up with a long time girlfriend and I was also footloose and fancy free when a mutual friend invited us to a tramps and tarts party. The rest, as they say, is history.

Not long afterwards we rented a ski chalet in La Clusaz for a week with a group of friends. It was self-catering so everyone brought some food. Unpacking my box of contributions, Matthew came across a jar of tomato chutney. Despite living in a tiny bed-sit with only two hotplates I still made a few jars each year as I consider it a staple. “What’s this?” he asked, so I told him. Before you could say Jack Robinson he had unscrewed the lid, eaten a spoonful and hidden the jar in one of the top cupboards. “Too good for that lot,” he said “they’ll polish it off in one go.”

Matthew and I met in October and married the following May. He always says he married me for my tomato chutney, amongst other things. Needless to say, running out of tomato chutney is grounds for divorce in our house.

Over the years I’ve only made two slight adjustments to this very old recipe. I use cider vinegar instead of dark malt vinegar and have cut down a bit on the sugar and salt. It’s crucial to use vine-ripened, very red, tasty tomatoes. The hard, orange, tasteless ones you buy in supermarkets in winter will produce a very mediocre chutney.

Tomato chutney goes well with cheese, ham and other cold meats.

Tomato chutney with cheddar cheese on crusty sourdough bread

Tomato Chutney

3 kg ripe tomatoes
1 kg peeled green apples (see note below)
500g peeled onions
500g seedless raisins
750g dark brown sugar
4 tsp salt
600 ml cider vinegar
2 rounded Tbs pickling spices (see recipe below)
4 Tbs whole yellow mustard seeds

You will need a large preserving pan with a heavy base for this recipe. Mine is stainless steel and has a diameter of 33cm and a height of 15cm. It holds about 7 litres. Alternatively make half the recipe in a large heavy-based saucepan.

Pour boiling water over tomatoes and leave for a couple of minutes, then remove skins and chop. Core and chop the apples and chop the onions. Place pickling spices in a muslin bag or tie them in an old cotton handkerchief. Place all ingredients except mustard seeds in preserving pan.

Cook for about an hour at a steady boil, until thick. Stir regularly to prevent sticking, especially towards the end. Meanwhile place sufficient clean jars (without their lids) in the oven set to 120°C. Or you can zap them in the microwave on High for 2 minutes. How many jars you use will depend on the size of the jars.

When chutney is cooked remove pickling spices, squeezing the bag so any juices go back into the chutney, then discard the spices. Stir in mustard seeds and pour into the hot sterilized jars using a small jug. Poke a knife down right to the bottom of each jar, all the way around the edge, to remove any air bubbles. Seal jars with the lids and store in a dark cupboard. Keeps for at least 12 months.

Note: Apples which go mushy when cooked, such as English Bramleys, are best, but they are hard to find in Australia. We’ve planted a tree and should get our first crop in a year or two. Alternatively use Granny Smiths, although the apples will stay in pieces when cooked. Sultanas can be used instead of raisins, but they are not quite as nice.

Makes 6-8 standard jam jars

Pickling Spices

1 tsp whole cloves (1 Tbs)
2 Tbs broken up cinnamon sticks (8 Tbs)
2 Tbs dried bay leaves, broken up (8 Tbs)
1 Tbs whole black peppercorns (4 Tbs)
2 tsp crushed dried birds-eye chillies (2 Tbs)
2 Tbs whole pimento (allspice) (8 Tbs)
2 tsp fennel seeds (2 Tbs)

Mix and keep in a jar. If the cinnamon sticks are very hard you may need to hit them with a meat mallet to break them up. I usually make 4 times the recipe at a time for which quantities are in brackets. Pimento (also known as Allspice) look like very large black peppercorns.

Mid-week Pork Stir-Fry

Try this delicious mid-week stir fry. Easy peasy and adaptable. I forgot to put the chilli on top for the photo. Leave it out for kids or anyone who doesn’t like things spicy. I’ve made this once a week for the past month and each time varied the recipe a bit. It’s always good. If preferred, leave out the noodles and serve with steamed rice.

 

600g pork, thinly sliced
2 Tbs brown sugar
1½ Tbs soy sauce
½ tsp Chinese five spice
2 tsp fish sauce
200g dried Asian noodles (e.g. rice noodles)
2 Tbs oil
1 red or white onion cut into eighths
1 Tbs grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red capsicum, thinly sliced
1 carrot, halved and sliced
200g snow peas, trimmed
¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock
¼ cup oyster sauce
¼ cup roasted cashews or peanuts or a mixture
1 small red chilli, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)

Combine pork, sugar, soy sauce, five spice and fish sauce in a bowl. Cook noodles according to packet instructions and drain well. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a wok or large frying pan and stir-fry the pork over high heat in two batches for 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add remaining 1 Tbs oil to the wok and over high heat stir-fry the onion, ginger, garlic, capsicum and carrot for 5 minutes. Add pork, snow peas, stock, oyster sauce and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Mix in the noodles and a dash of water if it’s a bit dry. Serve garnished with the nuts and the chilli.

Substitutions:
– beef or chicken thighs instead of pork
– broccoli florets, green beans, spinach, asparagus or bok choy instead of snow peas

12 Handy New Year Tips

Instead of a recipe this week here are some handy tips:

  1. Use pillow cases to store various food types in a chest freezer e.g. red for beef, blue for lamb. Stops things getting lost down the bottom and makes it easier to find what you need. Use old ones or buy some cheap brightly coloured ones.
  2. Freeze whole fresh chillies in a ziplock bag so you always have them on hand. Chopped lemon grass also freezes well.
  3. Peel half a kilo or so of fresh ginger then chop finely in food processor. Freeze in ice cube trays, tip into a ziplock bag or container and freeze. Perfect for stir-fries and marinades.
  4. Make a batch of Pesto during summer when fresh basil is available. Freeze in ice cube trays, then store in a ziplock bag to use over the winter months.
  5. Passionfruit pulp also freezes well in ice cube trays.
  6. So does tomato paste. Avoids throwing out half a jar because it’s grown fur in the fridge!
  7. Save hotel shower caps and use to cover large bowls and platters in the fridge. Easier than plastic wrap which doesn’t always stick to things. Toss in the washing machine then dry on the line and use again.
  8. Don’t throw away leftover or stale cornflakes, savoury crackers, corn chips, rice crackers, potato chips or other savoury snacks. Blitz them all together in the food processor and keep the crumbs in a jar. Use to make Healthy Oven-Baked KFC.
  9. Wash salad greens, spin dry, then store in the salad spinner in the fridge where they will stay crisp and fresh for several days. My favourite salad spinner is made by Zyliss and I have two of them.
  10. Freeze whole bananas in their skin to use (peeled) for banana cake or smoothies.
  11. Freeze whole green grapes and use to chill a glass of white wine when the weather is very hot, without making it watery.
  12. People often ask how I calculate food quantities for large crowds. For a two hour drinks and nibbles party I allow 10 pieces of finger food per person. Some will eat less but others will make up for it! If guests are likely to stay longer than two hours or you have a lot of young guests – especially men with hollow legs – allow extra!

Cooking for the Holiday Season

With less than a week to go till Christmas everyone is busy shopping and cooking. A week later we’ll all be at it again for New Year. Here are some links to Café Cat recipes to help you through the holiday season.

If you want to make your own Christmas cake or pudding it’s not too late – just give it a good drizzle of brandy a couple of days before serving and it will be nice and moist. And this cheat’s recipe for Quick Individual Christmas puds, made with crumbled shop-bought cake, is a sure winner for end of year gatherings.

Sausage rolls and mince pies are traditional Christmas finger foods which can be baked ahead until just slightly under-done, then frozen (or refrigerated for a day or two) and reheated for a few minutes on the day. These sausage rolls decorated to look like Little Piggies are sure to please the smaller guests.

At this time of year I always make a Glazed Ham  and some Gravlax with Sweet Mustard Sauce because they both slice into a lot of servings which means they last for several meals. Cook the ham a bit longer than the one shown in the photo, so the glaze goes a darker brown. I must have been in a rush that day! Make double the Sweet Mustard Sauce recipe and keep it in a jar in the fridge. You’ll find it goes well with ham as well as Gravlax or Smoked Salmon. Here you can see a platter of sliced Gravlax next to some cooked asparagus surrounded by good old-fashioned devilled eggs, garnished with a small piece of anchovy.

Here are some more ideas for a cold buffet:

And a few cold starters for a sit down meal:

For an impressive dessert you can’t go wrong with one of these:

And if you’re short of time try one of these:

I would like to wish all my readers a very Merry Christmas and a happy, healthy and safe New Year. I look forward to sharing many more recipes with you in 2019.

Crispy Skin Salmon with Green Papaya Salad

On a recent trip to Europe we caught up with quite a few friends and family in Denmark, England and France. It was so nice to return to Copenhagen (12 years after we lived there) and find that our old friends still wanted to hang out with us. As we walked in the door the cork would pop off the first bottle of champagne, then we’d have a lovely time eating, drinking and being merry. Just like we’d never been apart. When we left a couple of days later they went back to their normal, more sensible, regime, while we moved on and started all over again.

This is why we like to spend a few days on the way back to Australia at a resort in Thailand, to recover. A week of swimming, reading, massage and early nights, with no wine and just the occasional beer or cocktail means we get home looking and feeling like we’ve had a holiday.

For the past few years we’ve stayed in Khao Lak, a 75 minute drive north of Phuket airport. It’s relatively quiet, the way Phuket was 20 or 30 years ago. I send an email to a taxi company called “Cheaper than Hotel” and when we walk out of the airport there’s our driver waiting.

Breakfast at the Chong Fah resort where we’ve stayed two years running is substantial, so we skip lunch and go out for dinner after a Happy Hour cocktail at sunset. The nearby resort named Casa de la Flora (which in correct Spanish should be Casa de la Flor) serves delicious modern Thai food. We dined there twice and both times ordered this dish which I have done my best to replicate. The recipe serves 4 as a light main course or 8 as a sharing plate.

4 salmon fillets, skin on
Salt and pepper
1 Tbs oil
Salad:
½ a small green papaya (about 200g), or 1 green mango
2 carrots (about 200g)
2 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
6 green beans cut into 2.5cm lengths (or use snow peas)
½ cup dried shrimp (from Asian stores) (optional)
1-2 dried chillies, chopped, or chilli flakes, to taste
8-10 cocktail tomatoes, halved
Dressing:
1 Tbs Thai Sweet Chilli Sauce
1 Tbs lime or lemon juice
1 Tbs fish sauce
1 Tbs brown sugar or palm sugar
To garnish:
1 lime
2-3 Tbs toasted peanuts

Pour boiling water over the dried shrimp. Leave for 15 mins then drain. Cut the papaya and carrots into julienne strips. Mix all ingredients for salad. Mix dressing and add to the salad.

Season salmon then place in a non-stick frying pan, skin side down. Turn on the heat to moderately hot and cook for 3-4 minutes, until skin is crispy, then turn over and cook for another 3-4 minutes, or until done to your liking.

Divide salad between 4 serving plates. Top with the salmon and garnish with the lime, cut into cheeks or wedges and the peanuts.

Serves 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caramelised Chicken Kebabs

 

If you like sticky Asian chicken dishes you’ll like this one. I used less than half the amount of sugar in the original recipe (which I thought was a bit over the top) and it worked well.

1.2 kg skinless, boneless chicken thighs
2 Tbs Asian fish sauce
1 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs lemon juice
Glaze:
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs Asian fish sauce
3 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs rice vinegar
1 Tbs honey
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
To serve:
2 Tbs white sesame seeds
2 Tbs black sesame seeds
2 Tbs flaked almonds
Thinly sliced spring onions, or chives
or chopped parsley

Cut chicken into 2.5cm (1 inch) chunks. Mix with the fish sauce, brown sugar and lemon juice and marinate for an hour or two.

Place all ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes to thicken.

Thread chicken onto 8 bamboo skewers which have been soaked in cold water. Cook on a grill or BBQ for about 8 minutes, brushing regularly with the glaze, or until cooked through. Cook for about 2 minutes on each of the four sides.

Place sesame seeds and almonds in a dry frying pan and stir over moderate heat for a few minutes or until golden.

When kebabs are cooked place on serving dish and brush again with the glaze. Sprinkle with the sesame seed mixture and the spring onions or herbs. Serve with steamed rice and a cucumber and onion salad.

Serves 4

Berry Nice Jam

This recipe makes about two and a half cups of delicious, fresh berry jam. It’s not cooked, so it will only keep for a few days in the fridge. Serve with fresh scones, croissants or Greek yoghurt. It also makes an amazing filling for a cream and jam sponge cake.

It works on the principle that when chia seeds are mixed with liquid they swell up and thicken the liquid. Have you ever tried chia seeds for breakfast? Soak them overnight in milk or juice, then add to your usual muesli and fruit mix.

2 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (or other berries)
3 Tbs honey, sugar or a sweetener such as Stevia
4 Tbs chia seeds
¼ cup water
1 tsp vanilla essence (optional)

Thaw the berries if frozen and crush them a bit with a fork. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. The jam will thicken as the chia seeds swell. This will take several hours or overnight. Keep in the fridge and use within a few days. Can be frozen, so you might like to freeze half and use half.

Makes about 2½ cups

Peanut Butter Ice Cream with Chocolate Sauce

When the kids were growing up I used to make a quick and easy chocolate sauce with a recipe from my mother in law. It goes well with ice cream, waffles and pancakes and disappeared faster than I could make it.

On a recent trip to Denmark  we spent a delightful weekend with our dear friends Vickie and Frants on the island of Fyn. Vickie served a delicious chocolate sauce with ice cream and when she explained the recipe I realised it was almost identical to mine, which I hadn’t made in ages.

Last weekend I went on a bit of a cooking spree and made a few things for the fridge and freezer, including peanut butter ice cream and chocolate sauce to serve with it. For Matthew, not the kids who are long gone. The recipe makes about a cup of sauce, so if you have a house full of kids you might like to double it. If you can’t find golden syrup, honey or maple syrup should work. The ice cream is very quick to make and you don’t need an ice cream machine.

Peanut Butter Ice Cream:
1 cup peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
A generous ½ cup of sugar
600 ml cream
125 ml milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
A pinch of Maldon salt flakes
Chocolate Sauce:
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
4 Tbs cocoa powder
2 Tbs Golden Syrup
A piece of butter the size of a walnut
1 tsp vanilla essence

For the ice cream, use electric beaters to mix the peanut butter with the sugar until smooth. Gradually beat in the cream and milk and continue beating until thick. Add the vanilla and salt, then scrape into a plastic container and freeze.

For the sauce, place all ingredients except the butter and vanilla in a large saucepan, as it tends to bubble up. Heat, while whisking until smooth, then boil at a steady boil without stirring for 4-5 mins. Remove from the heat, add the butter and vanilla. Serve immediately or store in the fridge, covered and reheat in the microwave for about 30 secs. If it gets a bit thick add a tablespoon or so of water before heating. And if it’s too “dark” add some cream.

Serve ice cream topped with the sauce.

Makes about 1 litre of ice cream and 1 cup of sauce

 

 

Portuguese Tarts

Portuguese tarts are famous around the world. Creamy custard filling, encased in flaky pastry then cooked in a hot oven until they start to blister on top. They’re best eaten freshly made, but if there are any left over pop them into a moderate oven for a few minutes to crisp up the pastry again.

1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
2 Tbs cornflour
200 ml milk
200 ml cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
About 350g bought puff pastry (or make your own)

In a large saucepan use a balloon whisk to combine all ingredients except the pastry. Bring mixture to the boil, whisking all the time, until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Grease 12 x 1/3 cup muffin pans. Roll out pastry and cut circles to fit the pans. Divide filling between the pastry cases – I managed to get 11 rather than 12. Bake for 20 minutes or until custard starts to brown. If you are able to switch your oven from Bake to Grill, or even better Fan Grill, for the last few minutes it will be easier to brown the tops of the tarts the way they do in Portugal, so they are a bit blackened.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 12