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

Roast Cauliflower with Black Garlic Dressing

This recipe was inspired by one made by a contestant in the latest Australian Masterchef series. His recipe involved smoking some of the ingredients. I skipped this stage and used honey rather than caramel to brush over the cauliflower.

Umami is the fifth taste sensation, after sweet, salty, sour and bitter. An intense savoury flavour, it’s  found in ingredients such as Parmesan cheese, tomato paste, stock cubes and, believe it or not, Vegemite and Marmite. The Masterchef contestant whose name was Simon admitted he had put a teaspoon of Vegemite into the dressing. The judges said it was absolutely delicious and he won the round.

Black Garlic is made by putting whole heads into a slow cooker for about a week at a very low temperature. The garlic cloves turn soft, black and sweet and are useful as a garnish or flavour booster. Sometimes described as poor man’s truffles, a whole head of Black Garlic will cost you around $10 and some specialty shops sell black garlic paste in a jar. If you don’t have any just leave it out. It won’t be quite the same but still tasty.

2 cauliflowers
2 Tbs honey or brown sugar
2 Tbs vinegar
2 Tbs olive oil
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
3 shallots, finely diced
A few cloves black garlic (optional)
100ml vegetable oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp Vegemite or Marmite
1 cup plain thick Greek-style yoghurt
Juice and zest of half a lemon
2 Tbs hazelnuts, skinned, toasted and chopped
Fresh herbs to garnish – I used Marjoram

Preheat oven to 180°C. Slice cauliflowers horizontally 2-3cm thick, including the stem. You should get at least 3 slices from each cauliflower. Keep the florets that fall off for another recipe.

Place cauliflower “steaks” on one or two shallow metal baking trays lined with baking paper. Mix the honey, vinegar and oil and brush all over the cauliflower. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, turn the cauliflower over and brush with remaining sauce. Bake for 15 mins or until cooked through and caramelised.

Meanwhile in a frying pan sauté chopped garlic and shallots in a little of the vegetable oil until soft but not brown. Scrape into a deep jug, add the rest of the vegetable oil, the black garlic (if using), the Vegemite, salt and pepper to taste, then blitz with a stick blender. Alternatively process in a food processor. In a small bowl, mix the yoghurt, lemon juice and zest and place in the fridge. Toast and chop the nuts.

To serve, place a slice of cauliflower on 6 individual plates or one large platter. Garnish with the yoghurt dressing, the garlic dressing, the toasted hazelnuts and some fresh herbs.

Serves 6

 

French Onion Soup

When our kids were 5, 8 and 11 we took long service leave, rented a chalet in the French Alps and skied for three months.

Timewise it fitted in perfectly between a posting in Malaysia and a posting in South Africa. We bought a car in London after spending Xmas with my family and drove over, packed to the gunnels with ski gear. Our chalet was on the outskirts of Megève – large and comfortable with an open fire.

The kids had left school in Kuala Lumpur just before Christmas and  were due to start in Pretoria after Easter. We were worried they might get behind, but two adults playing schools with three children for a couple of hours each day meant they got ahead.

They had never been on skis, but by the time we left, they skied like demons, leaving us behind. When we were snowed in for a few days we played Monopoly, Scrabble and Mastermind. When large blocks of ice fell off the roof the kids built an igloo, with a little help from Matthew. We went ice skating and watched the annual husky dog races. Everyone has fond memories of that holiday.

Five year old David fell in love with snails. When we were back in Australia later that year he asked the waiter in a Pizza Hut “Do you have escargots?”  The waiter, looking somewhat puzzled, said: “What mate? We’ve got pizzas and salads here mate.”

Most days we had lunch in the chalet: deux baguettes with a selection of cheeses, cold meats and patés. Occasionally we stopped for lunch on the ski slopes, where onion soup was invariably on the menu.

1½ kilos onions, halved then thinly sliced
60g butter and 1 Tbs oil
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs flour
2 litres beef or chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
12-16 slices French bread sliced 2 cm thick
300g coarsely grated Gruyere or Emmental cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 Tbs dry sherry or brandy

In a large saucepan, cook onions in butter and oil over low heat, stirring often and with a lid for about 15 mins, or until soft. Best to use a heavy-bottomed non-stick pan as there is a tendency to stick with this recipe.

Add sugar and salt and raise the heat to moderate. Cook for 30-40 mins, stirring often, or until deep golden brown. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add stock and wine slowly, stirring. Simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes. Cool then refrigerate until ready to serve – preferably overnight. Reheat, add sherry or brandy and salt and pepper to taste.

Top bread slices with grated cheese and grill until golden and cheese is bubbling. Ladle soup into bowls and place one or two slices of bread on each serving.

Serves 6-8

Crispy Pork Belly with Mashed Pumpkin & Wilted Spinach

Osteria Francescana, a restaurant in Modena with three Michelin stars, was named best restaurant in the world in 2016 and again in 2018. We were in the neighbourhood in late summer 2018, but you need to book months ahead and we hadn’t.

Chef-owner Massimo Bottura also runs a bistro in Modena called Franceschetta 58, so we decided to try and get a reservation for their three course 25 Euro lunch. We arrived in Modena late Sunday morning and while Matthew double parked I dashed in to book a table for one o’clock. There were only two spaces left, at a long thin table for eight where patrons sit on bar stools with other guests. Perfecto, I said, in my best Italian.

A couple of hours wandering around the Sunday markets allowed us to work up an appetite. As we were finishing our meal, which was excellent, a lady sitting next to Matthew, whose son was next to me, asked where we were from and how we had ended up at the restaurant. By her accent she was obviously American. I told her I had watched a Netflix documentary called Chef’s Table and one of the episodes was on Massimo Bottura. Actually, I said, his wife is American. Yes I know, she said, that’s me.

Lara told us a bit about her life in Modena and maintaining the high standards of a world-renowned restaurant. Then she recommended some places to eat well in the region. Today’s blog is my take on the main course we had that day. Simple, but a great combination of flavours.

800g-1kg boneless pork belly with skin
2 tsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
½ tsp each cumin and fennel seeds
½ cup water
500g pumpkin, peeled and cubed
1 packet baby spinach leaves
Butter, salt and freshly ground black pepper
Balsamic glaze

Pour boiling water over the pork, then pat dry with paper towels and leave in the fridge overnight, uncovered, to dry out.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Pat pork dry again with paper towels. Using a very sharp knife, score skin all over. Place pork in a roasting pan, rub oil over the skin, then sprinkle with salt and seeds. Pour water around the pork, cover with foil, then roast for two hours. Check from time to time and add a dash more water if it dries up.

Turn oven up to 220°C, remove foil and continue to cook for about half an hour, or until pork skin is crispy. If liked, add some parboiled potatoes drizzled with a little oil, to the pan for this last half hour. Cut pork into portions and serve with the pumpkin, the spinach and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. Pass the potatoes separately.

Pumpkin: cook in boiling, salted water for 15-20 mins or until tender. Drain then mash thoroughly, adding butter and seasoning to taste. A shake of ground nutmeg goes well. For a more intense flavour roast the pumpkin rather than boiling it.

Spinach: place in a small frying pan with a knob of butter. Stir fry until wilted, then season to taste.

Serves 6