Quick Olive Bread

This recipe is an adaptation of Irish Soda Bread. Made in the time it takes the oven to heat up, you can whip this up between morning coffee and Sunday lunch.

Served with home-made Gravlax and pickled vegetables (see below) it was delicious. Spread the bread with butter or mayonnaise, before topping with the gravlax or smoked salmon.

2 cups plain flour, sifted
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 Tbs lemon juice or vinegar
1½ cups plain yoghurt
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
1 cup sliced olives (black or green or a mix)
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
1 Tbs each sunflower seeds and pepitas

Preheat oven to 180°C and line a baking tray with baking paper.

Mix all the ingredients together, except the seeds, in a mixing bowl. Mix until all the dry bits have been incorporated. With floured hands, form into a ball and place on the baking tray. Use hands to shape into a low flattish round as shown in photo. Sprinkle with the seeds and pat them on.

Bake for 45 minutes or until evenly browned. Cool then serve immediately. Any leftovers can be served next day, toasted.

Makes 1 loaf

Variation: use chopped sun dried tomatoes instead of olives or some of each.

Japanese Pickled vegetables: cut vegetables into two-bite pieces and pack into a clean large jar or 2-3 smaller ones – cauliflower florets, red capsicum strips, cucumber sticks, carrot sticks, chunks of fennel etc. Heat 1 cup each of sugar, water and cider or white wine vinegar in a saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar, then bring to the boil and pour over the vegetables. If liked add one or two whole red chillies, then cover with the lid. If you don’t have enough liquid to cover the vegetables, make a bit more, using equal quantities of sugar, water and vinegar. Keep for a few days before using. Store in the fridge.

Prawn Appetisers with Tamarind Sauce – Miang Kham

While holidaying in Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand for a few days recently we ate some delicious prawn appetisers called Miang Kham.

Betel leaves are sold in my local Asian grocery store, so I bought a packet and was able to whip up these tasty, healthy morsels in no time flat.

You might want to make double the tamarind dressing recipe. It keeps in the fridge for weeks and is useful to serve with all sorts of things, such as grilled salmon or chicken.

8 large prawns, peeled (raw or cooked)
1 Tbs oil
2-3 Tbs tamarind dressing
8 fresh betel leaves (from Asian shops)
2 Tbs roasted peanuts or crispy fried shallots (from Asian shops), or both
Fresh coriander leaves

Make tamarind sauce. Arrange the betel leaves, shiny side up, on a serving tray. Heat oil in a frying pan and cook the prawns. If using raw prawns, cook for about 3 minutes each side or until cooked through. If using cooked prawns just cook them for a minute or so, to heat through. Add the tamarind sauce and stir to coat well.

Arrange a few peanuts and one prawn on each betel leaf. Divide any remaining tamarind sauce left in the pan between the prawns. Sprinkle with crispy fried shallots, if using I didn’t use them in the photo. Top each one with a coriander leaf or two.

To eat the Miang Kham just pick up a betel leaf, pull the sides together to enclose the filling then pop it into your mouth.

Makes 8

Variations: use cubes or strips of chicken or scallops instead of prawns. Use lettuce or radicchio leaves instead of betel leaves.

Finding a Cleaner

Some years ago my cleaner had major surgery and had to stop cleaning. I put an ad in the local paper looking for a replacement and got four responses.

First on the list was a nineteen year old girl who wanted the money but didn’t have a clue about cleaning. As I walked past the bathroom she was holding the toilet brush gingerly between thumb and forefinger, nose screwed up, poking madly into the bowl while flushing at the same time. When I suggested she might need a cloth to do the rest she said “Oh, do you have to clean the outside as well?” She had to go.

Next was a Polish lady who said “It’s a very nice house, apart from ze dog who lives inside.” Our golden retriever was petrified of her and she only lasted two weeks. It wasn’t a good match.

Next on the list was a young Vietnamese girl. I showed her around and explained what needed doing. Everything seemed fine. On the appointed day she arrived with her father and left him to do the job. He obviously had no experience and communication was a disaster as he spoke no English.

We had friends coming for dinner that night and Mr Nguyen was making painfully slow progress. “Friends are coming for dinner tonight so I want everything to look nice,” I said in a desperate attempt to speed him up. With that he smiled, stood to attention, saluted and went out to do the gardening. He had to go.

Last on the list was a lady from Pakistan who could only come on Saturdays. She sang Gospel songs at the top of her voice while she worked. Her favourite job was scrubbing the bathroom, which took her at least an hour. The Hallelujas echoed around the house.

Matthew was trying to read the weekend newspaper and said he couldn’t cope with the singing. She had to go. Seeing my frustration he suggested we do the cleaning ourselves. So that’s what we did for several years.

We’ve now found a lovely girl from Colombia who does a great job and everyone is happy. The dog and the cat both love her and I get to practice my Spanish.

This is a favourite fish recipe I was given by my cleaning lady in Israel, many moons ago.

Japanese Soboro Donburi

Looking for something quick to make with half a kilo of minced beef? Try this Japanese rice bowl recipe.

Donburi in Japanese means rice bowl dish and there are lots of different variations using chicken, pork, eggs and so on.

This combination of minced beef, ginger and frozen peas, served with steamed rice, isn’t a sophisticated dish, but it can be whipped up in no time flat. The perfect mid-week dinner to serve when everyone is asking “What time’s dinner Mum?” and you haven’t got time to make that packet of mince into spag bol or lasagne.

Cut down on the ginger if the kids aren’t mad about it. Some people aren’t fans of rice cookers, but I love mine. Switch it on when you start to prepare the mince and the whole dish will be ready to serve in around 15 minutes. Feel free to add some chilli or

500g lean minced beef
1/3 cup sake or dry sherry
¼ cup soy sauce (or substitute oyster sauce)
¼ cup water
1½ Tbs sugar
1-2 Tbs grated fresh ginger
1 cup frozen peas
To serve:
Steamed rice
Japanese pickled ginger*
Thinly sliced spring onions (scallions) (optional)

In a large heavy saucepan, place the beef, sake or sherry, soy sauce, water and sugar. Cook over medium to high heat, stirring often to break up any lumps, for about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and peas and continue to cook for 4 minutes or so, stirring often, until most of the liquid has evaporated but the mixture is still moist. Check for seasoning and add a little salt if necessary.

Divide rice between 4 or 5 bowls, top with the beef mixture and garnish with the pickled ginger and spring onions if using. I didn’t have any for the photo.

Serves 4-5

*available in jars in the Asian section of your supermarket

Spaghetti Bolognese

Everyone has a recipe for spaghetti bolognese, or “spag bol” as it’s fondly known in our house. My Mum taught me to make it when I was about ten, so I could probably do it with my eyes closed.  She learnt to make it with a can of corned beef when the family were posted to Malta with the Army during WWII and living on strict rations. A family of seven received one 450g can of Fray Bentos corned beef in their fortnightly allocation.

Fortunately, nobody needs to eat canned meat these days, so this adapted version uses fresh minced beef. It also uses lots of mushrooms, which is something which was added to the recipe after the war. As a mushroom fan I think they are an essential ingredient, but you can of course leave them out. A lot of kids don’t like them.

You may think it’s a bit “retro” to use an oxo cube, but it’s one of those recipes I’ve been making forever, it works, so why change it?  I sometimes double the recipe which makes enough to freeze some for another day, or to make a small lasagne.

Every kid should have spag bol in their repertoire by the time they leave home. When our kids were in their teens they each had to cook dinner one day a week. They had to put the ingredients on my shopping list and then after dinner the other two had to clean up. Our youngest son usually made spag bol. Maybe get yours to make it next time?

2 Tbs olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
250g mushrooms, wiped and sliced
500g minced beef
400g can peeled tomatoes, chopped
1 beef oxo cube or beef stock cube
1 Tbs tomato paste
3 tsp dried oregano or 1 Tbs fresh chopped oregano or marjoram
3 Tbs dry sherry or red wine
1 tsp sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large frying pan and cook onion and garlic until soft but not brown.  Add mushrooms and continue to cook and stir for a few minutes until the mushrooms have softened and are starting to brown.  Add the mince and continue to cook and stir, breaking up any large bits, until the meat is browned all over.  Add tomatoes, a can of water (using the empty tomato can) and remaining ingredients.

Simmer the sauce, stirring every five minutes or so, for 30-40 minutes, adding more water whenever the sauce gets too thick.  You will probably use about 3 cans of water altogether.

Serve with cooked spaghetti or fettuccine, grated cheese (Parmesan or cheddar or a mixture) and a mixed salad.

Serves 4

Chocolate Bread and Butter Pudding

Someone gave my daughter Catherine a Panettone for Christmas.  As they don’t like Panettone very much, she gave it to me.  I have to admit I’m not mad about the Italian answer to Christmas cake either, but my “war mentality” doesn’t allow me to throw good food away.  So I stuck it in the freezer.  Catherine laughed when she saw me do this and admitted she had inherited my “waste not want not” approach to food and if she hadn’t been travelling she would have frozen it too.

This weekend I used just over half the Panettone to make a delicious chocolate bread and butter pudding, adapted from a recipe by Delia Smith.  She uses ordinary white bread with the crusts cut off.  You could use bread, panettone, croissants, brioche – anything which needs using up – which is how this traditional British dessert was first invented – to use up stale bread.

9 slices of day old white bread – or the equivalent in panettone, brioche or croissants
150g dark chocolate (I used more like 175g to make it really chocolatey)
75g butter
425ml cream
4 Tbs dark rum (optional)
pinch ground cinnamon
4 Tbs caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
To serve:
Icing sugar
Thick pouring cream

Butter a rectangular lasagne-type dish.  In a large bowl place chocolate, broken into squares, butter, cream, sugar, cinnamon and rum, if using.  Microwave until melted which will take a couple of minutes. Stop every 30 seconds or so to stir the mixture and stop as soon as it’s melted.  Delia does hers the traditional way over simmering water which is safer.  Using the microwave is quicker, but you need to keep an eye on it.  Whisk in the eggs with a hand whisk, until well-combined.

Pour about 2cm of the chocolate cream over the base of the dish, then arrange about half the panettone slices or bread slices, overlapping if necessary to cover the base of the dish.  Panettone slices are large so you need to cut them into about three and use them like a jigsaw puzzle.  Pour in half the remaining chocolate cream and push all over with the back of a fork so the panettone soaks it up.  Arrange the rest of the panettone or bread over the top, pour in the remaining chocolate cream, push with a fork so there are no dry bits left.  Cover the dish with plastic wrap, leave for a couple of hours at room temperature then refrigerate for 24-48 hours.

Remove cling film and bake at 180°C for 35 minutes or until the top is brown and crunchy and the bottom is cooked but still soft.  Remove from the oven, allow to stand for a few minutes then serve dusted with icing sugar.  Pass a jug of thick pouring cream separately.

Serves 6-8

Spicy Korean Beef in the Slow Cooker

If you have a slow cooker and are time poor then this recipe, adapted from one by Nigella Lawson, is for you.

Nigella uses brown rice. I used pearl barley and added some toppings. We love pearl barley, which you can use as a substitute in most recipes which call for brown rice.

500g minced beef
1 can chopped tomatoes and 1 can water
1¼ cups pearl barley (or brown rice)
¼ cup Sriracha chilli sauce (or another chilli sauce/paste)
¼ cup soy sauce
1 packet 250g beansprouts
To serve: 
Sour Cream
Grated cheese (I used cheddar)
Chopped fresh coriander

Place minced beef, tomatoes, water, pearl barley or brown rice, chilli sauce and soy sauce in a slow cooker. Stir to combine, then cook on low for four hours, stirring a couple of times. When the pearl barley is tender it’s ready. Place beansprouts in a bowl. Cover with boiling water, stand for one minute then mix into the meat mixture. Allow to heat through for 15 minutes.

Serve as it is or topped with sour cream, grated cheese and coriander. Can be served in wraps or taco shells or on top of corn chips.

Additions: if liked, add a drained can of corn or a couple of cups of frozen peas about half an hour before serving. I also added a splosh of dry sherry. Why not?

Watermelon Sorbet with Olive Oil & Maldon Sea Salt

This recipe is easy to make and never fails to impress. Serve it in shot glasses as a palate cleanser between courses or as a very light starter or dessert. The combination of sweet watermelon sorbet, fruity olive oil and salt flakes is amazing.

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1½ kg watermelon, rind removed, cubed
Juice of half a lemon (or more, to taste)
1 egg white
To serve:
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt flakes

Place water and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes.  Cool.  Puree the watermelon cubes in a food processor.  Push through a fine sieve, pressing hard on the solids.  You should have at least 600ml juice.

Add syrup and lemon juice to watermelon juice and mix well.  Tip into a shallow plastic container and freeze for 4-5 hours, covered, or until almost solid.  Scrape sorbet into a food processor, add the egg white and process until smooth.  Return to the plastic container, cover and freeze again.

Serve a scoop or two per person in a shot glass.  Drizzle with a good slug of extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a few salt flakes.

Serves lots and keeps for up to a month in the freezer

Beef Casserole with Spring Onion Mash

A good beef casserole accompanied by mashed potatoes to mop up the gravy is the sort of comfort food we all enjoy as the weather gets cooler. These old-fashioned dishes take us back to our childhood and Mum’s cooking.

This casserole doesn’t contain any tomatoes or herbs, allowing the flavour from the mushrooms and the sherry to shine through. It can be made in the oven or in a slow cooker.

Beef Casserole with Spring Onion Mash

2 Tbs oil
1 kg lean stewing beef such as chuck steak
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g speck or bacon cut into chunky pieces (lardons)
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
250g mushrooms, wiped and thickly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups water (only 1 cup for Slow Cooker)
1 beef stock cube
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
½ cup dry sherry or red wine
Spring Onion Mash:
1 kg potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized pieces
25g butter
¼ cup milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 spring onions, thinly sliced (optional)
To serve:

Chopped fresh parsley

Trim beef and cut into 3cm cubes. Season. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a large frying pan and brown half the meat all over until nicely caramelised. Put beef into a heavy Le Creuset-type casserole with a lid or into a Slow Cooker. Repeat with remaining oil and beef. Add the lardons to the pan and cook, stirring until light brown. Add onions and cook for 3-4 mins stirring regularly, until starting to soften. Add carrots, mushrooms, garlic and a touch more oil if necessary and continue to cook for 3-4 mins. Tip vegetables into the casserole with the beef.

Add water, stock cube, Worcestershire sauce and sherry or wine. If using a casserole dish cover and cook at 150°C for two hours or until meat is tender and sauce has thickened up. If using a Slow Cooker use only one cup of water, cover and cook for 3-4 hours on High or until meat is tender and sauce has thickened.

Casserole will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days or you can eat half and freeze the rest. Reheat, check seasoning and serve garnished with chopped parsley and accompanied by Spring Onion Mash to mop up all the gravy.

Spring Onion Mash: cook potatoes in boiling salted water for 20 mins or until tender. Drain thoroughly then mash with a potato masher, adding the butter and milk. When smooth and creamy season with salt and pepper and fold in the spring onions if liked.

Serves 4-6

Spinach and Feta Pastries

This recipe for Spinach and Feta pastries was one of my most popular posts, so here it is again. I’m travelling in Europe so there will be a few repeat posts while I’m away.

These are a great addition to lunch boxes, picnics and buffet lunches. They are also great to serve with drinks. Most kids love them and it’s a good way to get them to eat more green veggies.

Once cooked and cooled, if not serving immediately, you can keep them in the fridge for a few days or freeze them. They will just need a few minutes in a hot oven or an air fryer to heat up.

1-2 sheets bought puff pastry
About 225g frozen chopped spinach, thawed (I used half a 450g pkt of spinach nuggets)
100g feta cheese, crumbled
¾ cup thinly sliced spring onions
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 egg
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 beaten egg to brush

Preheat oven to 200°C. Squeeze any liquid from the spinach then mix it with remaining filling ingredients. Cut out 12 squares of puff pastry, approximately 8cm or 3 inches square. I got nine from one sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry.

Lightly but thoroughly (mine got a bit stuck) oil a 12 hole muffin pan and place a pastry square in each. Place a rounded tablespoonful of filling in each, then go back and use the rest to top them up. If you have too much you could use another muffin pan and make a couple more but I found the mixture made exactly 12.

Pull the four pastry points over the top of the filling and pinch lightly together. Brush with beaten egg, then bake for 20 minutes or until golden. Serve warm or at room temperature. Can be kept in the fridge for 2-3 days and reheated for a few minutes in a hot oven or frozen.

Makes 12