Labneh with Summer Berries

I made this delicious Ottolenghi dessert when we were in Vancouver for my brother’s wedding in August, when the Canadian berry season was in full swing. Friends who saw the photo on Facebook thought it was a pavlova. In fact the base is strained yoghurt, known as labneh in the Middle East. Much healthier.

For subscribers in the southern hemisphere this could become your go-to dessert for the holiday season. For those living in the north, you’ll have to wait until summer or perhaps try using frozen berries. Ottolenghi doesn’t use the orange juice in this recipe, but I’ve made the recipe twice, once with and once without the juice. Much more orangey with.

1 kg thick Greek-style yoghurt
A good pinch of salt
1-2 Tbs icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
100ml Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 orange
A few sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
800g to 1 kg fresh berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, stoned cherries)
1-2 Tbs caster sugar

The day before serving make the labneh and the orange oil. Place a sieve over a bowl and line it with muslin or similar fabric. I use a man’s handkerchief which I keep especially for this purpose. Scrape yoghurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate overnight. Next day discard the liquid – my dog loves it. Mix icing sugar and vanilla into the yoghurt.

Remove the peel from the orange with a vegetable peeler, then remove the juice and heat it in a saucepan for a few minutes, or until reduced by half. Add the olive oil, the thyme and leave to infuse overnight.

At serving time spread labneh onto a large serving platter. Place about half the berries in a food processor with the caster sugar and pulse a few times to chop roughly. Spoon on top of the labneh. Top with the remaining whole berries, slicing the strawberries if large. Drizzle with some of the orange oil and garnish with the orange zest and some fresh thyme sprigs – the original ones will have gone a bit brown.

Serves 8-10

Variations: use other fruit combinations, such as bananas and passionfruit; kiwi fruit and strawberries

Gnocchi with Prawns and Chorizo

A  simple combination of flavours turns a shop bought packet of gnocchi into something delicious. This recipe was in a free magazine I picked up in Coles supermarket.

 

1 Tbs olive oil
1 chorizo sausage, skinned and chopped coarsely
200g baby tomatoes
500g peeled prawns, raw or cooked, deveined
500g packed chilled potato gnocchi
2 handfuls rocket or baby spinach leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Harissa or Sriracha Chilli Sauce to taste (optional)

In a large non-stick frying pan or wok heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes, If using raw prawns add them now and cook, tossing, for a further 4-5 mins, or until they change colour.

Meanwhile cook gnocchi in boiling water according to packet directions, then drain. Add to the frying pan. If using cooked prawns add them now with the gnocchi and the tomatoes and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the rocket or spinach, toss well and season to taste. If you like a bit of heat, add some chilli sauce.

Serves 4

Jam Doughnut Muffins

Who doesn’t like doughnuts? The only trouble is you have to cook them in deep hot oil, which puts a lot of people off making them at home.

This recipe combines the flavours of a doughnut in a muffin which is baked in the oven. Quicker and easier than anything deep fried, but they are brushed with melted butter, to help the sugar stick, so I’m not sure about them being healthier! A perfect treat for the kids when they come home from school.

2 cups self-raising flour
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup (250ml) buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla essence
Red jam (e.g. strawberry, raspberry)
To serve:
125g butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 12 hole muffin pan with one third cup capacity holes. Place flour, sugar, salt, oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla in food processor and whiz to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides, or use electric beaters. Fill each muffin hole a bit over half full. Place a heaped teaspoon of jam in the middle of each, then divide remaining mixture between the muffins. I made 10 but they could have been a bit smaller to end up with 12.

Bake for 20 mins or until well-risen and golden brown. Cool in the pans for a few minutes, then remove. Mix sugar and cinnamon. While still warm brush each muffin all over with melted butter then roll in the sugar. Best eaten on the day they are made.

Makes 12

Variations: use lemon curd, chocolate chips or Nutella in the middle instead of red jam.

Foie Gras with Rocket, Beetroot & Caramelised Onions

Whenever we’re In France I buy a few tins of Bloc de Foie Gras de Canard. We declare them as we go through Customs and have never any problems getting them into Australia. Saved for special occasions, six cans last us a year or more.

This salad makes a light lunch or a substantial starter and is a good way to make one can of foie gras serve four or even six at a pinch.

1 can (150g) bloc de foie gras de canard
2-3 small beetroot
1 large onion, halved then thinly sliced
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
4 handfuls rocket, washed and spun dry
Salad dressing
2 Tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted
To serve:
Hot buttered toast

Preheat oven to 180°C. Peel beetroot, then thinly slice using a mandolin or slicing attachment on food processor. Mix about 30 slices with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt and arrange on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Place in the oven and immediately turn temperature down to 100°C. Cook until they are crisp. This shouldn’t take long as they are so thin, but keep an eye on them.

Heat a Tbs oil in a frying pan and cook the onion for 15 mins over low heat until soft but not brown, stirring often. Add balsamic and continue to cook for a few minutes until caramelised. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the pan. Cut the rest of the beetroot slices into julienne strips. Heat a Tbs oil in the frying pan and stir fry the beetroot for 10 mins or until al dente. Cool.

Mix rocket with a little salad dressing or some oil and vinegar and arrange on four serving plates. Divide the onion between the plates, then the stir-fried beetroot (you may not need it all) and the beetroot crisps.

Divide the foie gras, cut into thin slices, between the plates, top with a few toasted pine nuts, then drizzle a little oil around the edge of each plate. Serve with hot buttered toast.

Serves 4

Variations: instead of beetroot use fresh or dried figs, or marinated/preserved figs; instead of pine nuts use walnuts or pecans.

 

 

Den Bosch Lemon Pudding

Den Bosch is one of the oldest cities in the Netherlands. We spent a couple of days there recently and one night had tapas for dinner at a wine bar.

The food was very good and the waitress was kind enough to give me the recipe for the dessert. I have a cheesecake recipe which is very similar to this, but the addition of a little vinegar really makes a difference. The method is also slightly different.

1½ cups (375 ml) whipping cream
1 can condensed milk
Grated rind and juice 2 large lemons
2-3 tsp white wine or cider vinegar, to taste
4-5 plain or ginger biscuits
slivers of lemon rind to garnish

Whip cream with electric beaters until thick then continue whipping while you add the condensed milk, lemon rind and juice and vinegar. I used a Kenwood standing mixer, but you can use hand held beaters.

Spoon into 8-10 small glasses. Chill several hours or overnight. Garnish with crushed biscuits and lemon rind.

Serves 8-10

Variation: Fold through the pulp of 3-4 passionfruit before spooning into glasses.

From Australia to Bilbao, via Bangkok

On the way to Europe in September we spent two nights in Bangkok. Just enough to break the journey and do a bit of shopping.

Recommended by an article in the QANTAS magazine, we had lunch at a trendy two-storey café called Sarnies, located in a former boat repair shop, a short walk from Taksin Pier and the Skytrain. They roast their own beans so the coffee is good. Delicious bistro food includes toasted sourdough with interesting toppings, called loaded toasts. A Messy Omelette, with slices of a spicy chorizo-type sausage, tiny strips of pickled onion, mint, dill and chilli oil, served on sourdough toast, was slightly undercooked, the way I like my omelettes. An individual coffee crème caramel topped with cocoa and thin strips of glacé orange was the perfect finish.

The two weeks we spent in the mountainous, green and beautiful north of Spain was the highlight of the trip. We flew into Bilbao and hired a car. When I was studying Spanish in the UK I went on several school exchanges to this area and have kept in touch with my pen pal and her family.

Most of the tourists we saw were Spanish, except when we visited the Guggenheim museum, which attracts visitors from all over the world. The infrastructure in Spain is impressive, everything is spotless, the people are friendly and the food and wine is cheap and of good quality. My Spanish pen pal is now in a wheelchair, but says there’s virtually nothing she can’t do as Spain is very well set up for disabled people.

Over the years the Spanish government has acquired 96 monasteries, abbeys and other historic buildings and turned them into hotels called Paradors. I have wanted to stay in a Parador since my poor student days when I was taken to one for a drink. While in Asturias we spent two nights at the Parador de Cangas de Onis. Prices are very reasonable for 4 star accommodation and they offer discounts for seniors on what they call Golden Days.

Oviedo, the capital of Asturias, has a beautifully-renovated old town (much more attractive than Bilbao) and by chance we arrived the day before the annual Fiesta de las Americas, which includes a colourful two hour street parade. It’s around the 20th of September if you want to plan for next year.

After enjoying an excellent meal at a small restaurant called Ca’ Suso we decided it must be close to being awarded a Michelin star. The set menu with choices at 28 Euros including wine offers amazing value.

The northern coast of Spain is dotted with pretty fishing villages and we really liked Comillas and San Vicente de la Barquera, preferring to avoid the large coastal towns of Santander and San Sebastian. The tasting menu at El Retiro, in Pancar was a perfect place to stop for a leisurely Sunday lunch, but you need to book.

On the other side of Bilbao we drove south to Pamplona. Fortunately, running with the bulls takes place in July, so I didn’t have to worry about Matthew testing his skills as a toreador. There are plenty of good tapas bars in this city and we visited a couple in Calle Estafeta. In the north of Spain tapas are called Pintxos (a Basque word, pronounced Pinchos) and sharing plates are called Raciones.

While staying for a couple of nights in an Airbnb in the picturesque old town of Lumbier, we went for a walk in the nearby gorge (Foz de Lumbier) and attended Vespers, sung in Latin each evening at 7pm at the nearby Leyre Monastery. It’s free and there’s no need to book.

From there we headed to Santa Cruz de la Serós in Arragon where we stayed for two nights at the Mirador de los Pirineos, a small hotel owned by a delightful Brazilian nicknamed Brasi. It’s closed from October to February when he heads off to work as a ski instructor. While staying in this quiet village we spent a day driving through the Hecho Valley and the adjoining Roncal Valley, which has some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen.

The leaves were just starting to turn and according to Brasi the autumn colours are at their best in the second half of October. There are lots of good walks in the gorge, although the cafés and hotels all close from November to Easter because of the snow. We had planned to have lunch at a restaurant in Hecho called Cantaré and were disappointed to find it’s closed from Monday to Wednesday. Instead we went to El Montañes in Biescas where the set menu with choices is 22 Euros including wine. This was one of the more upmarket and memorable little gems we found. You can eat well in Spain for far less and we often did.

On our way home we spent 5 nights at a resort in Khao Lak. This was our umpteenth holiday in Thailand and our third visit to the Chong Fah Resort. We use Bangkok Airways to get from Bangkok to Phuket, then a driver takes us an hour and a quarter north to the resort. Khao Lak is the way Phuket was 20 years ago, before it became too touristy.

A few days of complete R and R means we get back to Australia feeling fantastic. Swimming, reading, walking, sleeping our brains out, daily massage and cocktails watching the sun go down. Perfect.

Sarnies
101-103 Soi 44, Charoen Krung Road, Bangkok
Tel: +662102 9407

Ca’ Suso
13 Marques de Gastanaga, Oviedo, Asturias
Tel: +34 985 228 232

Parador de Cangas de Onis
Villanueva de Cangas, Asturias
Tel: +34 985 849 402

El Retiro
Pancar, Llanes, Asturias
Tel: +34 985 400 240

Cantaré
1 Calle Aire, Hecho, Aragon
Tel: +34 974 375 214

El Montañes
1 Calle Escudial, Biescas, Aragon
Tel: +34 974 485 216

Chong Fah Resort
54/1 Moo 5, Bang Niang Beach, Khao Lak
Tel: +66 76 486 858

 

 

 

Chicken with Fresh Corn Salsa on Toast

Leftovers on a slice of buttered toast is one of my favourite quick meals. What might not be quite enough for one or two can be stretched (as my mother used to say) by serving it on a slice of toast. Leftover spag bol sauce for example.

This recipe uses a slice of toast to create a light but satisfying mid-week dinner or weekend lunch for two. Use two small chicken breasts, one large one, or buy the small strips called fillets.

 

350g chicken breast or fillets
Marinade:
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
½ tsp hot English mustard
1 tsp vinegar or lemon juice
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or a pinch of dried
½ tsp salt
½ clove garlic, crushed
1 tsp honey
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 pinch chilli flakes (optional)
Fresh Corn Salsa:
1 ear fresh corn
1 tsp vinegar
½ tsp Dijon mustard
1 Tbs olive oil
½ clove garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp chopped fresh thyme or a pinch of dried
To serve:
2 tsp olive oil to fry chicken
2 slices buttered toast
Something red (capsicum, tomato, sun dried tomato)
1 avocado, sliced
2 sprigs thyme

If using whole chicken breasts cut them into chunky slices like fillets.

Mix all ingredients for marinade with the chicken in one bowl. Remove kernels from corn cob by slicing downwards with a sharp knife. Mix with remaining salsa ingredients in another bowl.

Heat olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry chicken for 4-5 mins each side or until golden brown and cooked through. Serve chicken on toast, topped with the salsa and avocado. Garnish with something red for a bit of colour and a sprig of thyme. If liked drizzle a little olive oil around the plate.

Serves 2

Eggplant, Nuts & Seeds with Labneh Dressing

 

When I do my weekly shopping I often buy a couple of eggplants with a view to making some kind of vegetarian dish. Inspired by a photo in a recent QANTAS magazine I created this colourful dish which was delicious. There was no recipe, just a photo, so there was a lot of guesswork!

2 large eggplants, sliced lengthwise about 1cm thick
olive oil
1 cup plain Greek yoghurt
1 Tbs lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Seeds from 1 pomegranate or ½ cup dried Goji berries
1 Tbs each pine nuts, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds and pepitas
2 tsp black sesame seeds (optional)
A few green leaves such as rocket, spinach (I used pea shoots from the garden)
Extra Virgin olive oil

To make the Labneh, strain the yoghurt for a few hours or overnight in a sieve lined with muslin or a man’s handkerchief, in the fridge. Discard the liquid.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Arrange eggplant slices on two large shallow baking sheets, lined with baking paper. Brush both sides with olive oil then bake for 20-30 mins or until cooked and golden brown. Arrange in a serving dish in overlapping circles.

Meanwhile heat the nuts and seeds in a dry frying pan over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly toasted. Remove seeds from pomegranate, or if using Goji berries, cover them with boiling water, then drain after 2-3 minutes.

Mix labneh with the lemon juice and season to taste.

Garnish eggplant slices with the pomegranate seeds or Goji berries, the toasted nuts and seeds and the labneh dressing. Add a few green leaves for colour. Drizzle a little Extra Virgin olive oil around the plate.

Serves 4

Roasted Vegetables with Spinach and Haloumi

 

Flying home from Canada I walked through the galley kitchen during the night, on my way to the loo. A flight attendant was eating something from a foil container which looked delicious. Not like aeroplane food at all. She told me it was roasted veggies with quinoa, spinach and halloumi. I made a mental note and here it is.

1 recipe Oven Roasted Vegetables
1 cup quinoa or couscous, prepared according to packet directions
1 packet baby spinach leaves
Extra Virgin Olive oil
Balsamic Glaze
Lemon Juice
1 packet Halloumi cheese

Make the vegetable recipe you can find by clicking on the link and prepare the couscous or quinoa. In a large salad bowl mix the vegetables with the quinoa or couscous and the baby spinach leaves. Add oil and lemon juice to taste.

Slice halloumi cheese about half a centimetre thick. Dry well with paper towels then fry on both sides in a frying pan in a little olive oil until golden brown. Arrange the halloumi on top of the vegetables, then drizzle with the lemon juice and balsamic glaze.

Serves 4

Variations: use the larger Israeli couscous, cooked according to packet directions. Top the salad with cubes of feta cheese instead of halloumi.

Ginger Cake

This ginger cake recipe is a combination of one I’ve had for years and one by David Lebovitz, which uses a lot more fresh ginger. I like to make cakes in a square tin, so they can be cut into lots of small squares. This plate was my contribution to morning tea at a recent meeting of the Women’s International Club. They disappeared in no time.

2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
1 cup molasses*
100g grated fresh ginger
2½ cups plain flour
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp each ground cinnamon and ground ginger
½ tsp each ground cloves and ground black pepper
To serve:
Icing sugar

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and bottom line a 22cm square or round cake tin. With electric beaters, beat eggs and sugar until thick and pale. Gradually beat in the oil. Heat the water in a pan until boiling point, then remove from the heat and mix in the molasses and the fresh ginger. Add to the cake mixture with the sifted flour, bicarbonate of soda and dry spices.

Scrape mixture into cake tin and bake on the middle shelf for 45-60 minutes or until firm on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Start checking after 45 minutes. Ovens vary and cake pans vary. If overcooked the cake will be dry.

Cool the cake then shake icing sugar over the top using a sieve and cut into squares. Keeps for several days in an airtight container.

Cut’s into 16-20 or more servings

* you can substitute golden syrup or treacle or half of each