We recently watched a movie called Chef starring Jon Favreau who was also the writer and director.

Favreau plays an amiable chef who works in a high-end restaurant in Los Angeles. The owner of the restaurant – a controlling, nasty piece of work played by Dustin Hoffman – forces the chef to cook dated dishes he doesn’t want to cook and they end up getting a very bad review.

Encouraged by his Cuban ex-wife the chef quits his job and starts a mobile food truck business with a friend, selling Cuban fast food. It’s a huge success, the chef reconnects with his 10 year old son, remarries his gorgeous ex-wife and everyone lives happily ever after.

The toasted sandwiches called “Cubanos” looked so delicious I decided to do some research and make them for Café Cat. They’re pretty high in cholesterol so I wouldn’t recommend eating them every day!

Cubanos were often eaten for lunch by workers in sugar mills and cigar factories in Cuba in the late 1800s. They are now popular in various parts of the United States, especially Miami.

In the movie they made them with Cuban bread, which looked like a wide baguette called a Flute in France. Any roast pork will do, but if you want authentic Cubanos make the Cuban version below.

I once watched Nigella Lawson make toasted sandwiches in a frying pan with a chopping board and a weight on top. I couldn’t help wondering why she didn’t jusr buy a proper sandwich press. They aren’t expensive and allow you to make toasted sandwiches with any kind of bread or wrap.


Baguettes or large bread rolls
Sliced roast pork (see below)
Sliced ham
Sliced Swiss cheese
Sliced dill pickles
Your favourite mustard
Melted butter

Split baguettes lengthwise and cut into sandwich lengths – about 15cm – or split the bread rolls. Heat up a sandwich press until hot. On one side of the sandwich place a layer of ham, a layer of sliced pork, a layer of sliced cheese and then a few sliced pickles. Spread mustard generously on the other half, then stick the sandwich together. Brush both sides with melted butter, place in sandwich press, close lid and cook until the bread is golden brown and cheese is melting. Serve immediately.

Cuban Roast Pork

2-2½ kg pork shoulder roast
4 tsp salt
1 cup lemon, lime or Seville orange juice
1 bay leaf
3 tsp oregano
3 tsp ground cumin
15-20 cloves garlic, depending on size, peeled

Stab meat all over with a sharp knife to make deep holes.  In a food processor or blender blend salt, fruit juice, bay leaf, oregano and cumin. Pour over the pork and rub in well, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

Next day remove pork from fridge and let come to room temperature for a good hour. Preheat oven to 140°C, tip off the marinade and reserve. Roast meat, uncovered for 4-5 hours or until well done. Baste often with the reserved marinade and turn occasionally. Remove from the oven and put the pork on a plate or cutting board. Cover loosely with foil and leave to rest. This pork is enough to feed a crowd with Cubanos.

Tomahawk Steak with Whisky-Glazed Carrots

Aldi had Tomahawk steaks on special so I bought one. Never having cooked this cut of beef before, I had a look on Google and learnt that it’s the rib-eye or Scotch fillet with the bone left in.

There was a fair amount of fat on the meat so I decided to cook it simply, on a very hot BBQ, in order to render most of it off and crisp up the rest. The result was delicious and very tender.

Whisky-Glazed Carrots – an old recipe from the 1970s – and some good mustard completed the meal. We didn’t feel the need for potatoes or other accoutrements which might have detracted from the simple combination of succulent savoury beef with sweet carrots.

After a week of abstinence, a very good bottle of Padthaway Shiraz we had been saving for a special occasion, or in this case no occasion at all, went down a treat.

Tomahawk Steak with Whisky-Glazed Carrots1 Tomahawk Steak weighing 1.3-1.5kg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
500g carrots cut into sticks
Juice and grated rind 2 oranges
1 tsp sugar or honey
2 Tbs whisky
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs butter
Snipped chives
To serve: your favourite mustard

Pre-heat BBQ on maximum for 10 minutes until very hot. For medium-rare, cook steak for 7-8 minutes each side, then a further 7-8 minutes each side. In addition, cook for about 5 minutes on the curved long side of the steak – you may need to hold it in place with some tongs while it cooks on this third side. Place on cutting board, cover loosely with foil and rest for 10-15 mins.

Meanwhile cook the carrots. Place in a saucepan with the orange rind and juice, sugar or honey, salt and pepper to taste. Cover and cook for 10 minutes or until almost cooked. Remove lid, add whisky and butter and cook for a few minutes more, shaking pan often, until liquid has been absorbed and carrots are just cooked and slightly glazed. Add chives and serve.

Slice meat downwards, across the grain and serve with mustard and carrots.

Serves 4-6

Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

Israeli-born Yotam Ottolenghi trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London. He then worked at the Michelin starred restaurant The Capital and later in the pastry section of the Kensington Place restaurant. He went on to become head pastry chef at Baker and Spice in Chelsea, where he met his Palestinian life partner Sami Tamimi. In 2002 their first delicatessen opened in Notting Hill. They have since opened three more establishments, selling some of the best takeaway food in London. Together Yotam and Sami have also co-authored several cook books.

Their culinary style is bold and often influenced by Middle Eastern flavours. This scrumptious salad comes from their book Jerusalem and came highly recommended by my daughter Catherine. The pan fried pita croutons idea is one you can use in other salads. You could do them with or without the nuts and use walnuts, pecans, pine nuts or macadamias to ring the changes. You could also use halved raisins if you don’t have any dates.

Spinach Salad with Dates and Almonds

1 Tbs white wine vinegar
½ medium red onion, thinly sliced
100g pitted dates, cut into 1cm pieces
30g unsalted butter
2 Tbs olive oil
2 small pitas, split in two horizontally then torn into 3-4cm pieces
75g whole almonds (not skinned), roughly chopped
2 tsp Sumac
½ tsp chilli flakes (I used dried crushed whole chillies)
150g baby spinach leaves, washed and dried
1-2 Tbs lemon juice

Place vinegar, onion and dates in a small bowl, add a pinch of salt and mix well. Leave to marinate for 20 mins then drain off any remaining vinegar and discard.

Heat butter and half the oil in a medium frying pan. Add pita and almonds and cook, stirring all the time, for 4-6 mins over medium heat until golden. Watch carefully the nuts don’t burn. Remove from heat and mix in the sumac, chilli and ¼ tsp salt.

To serve, mix spinach leaves with the pita and almonds. Add the dates and red onion, the remaining Tbs of oil, lemon juice to taste and another pinch of salt. Taste for seasoning and serve immediately in one large salad bowl or on individual plates.

Serves 4-6 as a side salad or 2 as a main course

Note: Sumac is a Middle Eastern ground spice available in ethnic markets and gourmet grocers.

Baby Eggplants with Pickled Red Onions

This quick and easy side dish is originally from Nigella Lawson. I’ve made it several times and adjusted it slightly by adding a touch of honey, which I think is an improvement. If preferred just leave it out.

It goes particularly well with lamb and is a perfect addition to a summer barbecue. It also makes a tasty lunch with the addition of crumbled goat’s cheese or feta and crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Recipes using eggplants usually require you to salt, drain, rinse and dry them. This process is said to draw out the bitterness, but to be honest I’m not convinced it makes much difference. You will be relieved to hear that you don’t need to do it in this recipe. As you can see in the photo, the eggplants I used weren’t really tiny ones, but they weren’t massive either. Use whatever you can find. If you leave the onions to pickle for longer, before adding the oil, they get softer. Any leftovers are very tasty.

Baby Eggplants with Pickled Red Onions500-700g small/baby eggplants (aubergines)
3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs chopped fresh oregano or marjoram (or 3 tsp dried)
1-2 red onions, depending on size, halved and thinly sliced
3 Tbs red wine vinegar
½ tsp salt
¼ cup water
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
Fresh oregano or marjoram, chopped, to garnish

Preheat oven to 200º C. Slice eggplants in half lengthwise. Keeping the stalks on makes the dish look more rustic. Place the regular olive oil in a shallow roasting pan and mix in the fresh or dried herbs. Rub the cut side of each eggplant in the oily mixture to coat it, then arrange them cut side up in the pan. Season with salt then bake for 15-25 minutes or until tender and starting to turn golden brown. Cooking time will depend on the size of the eggplants.

Meanwhile mix onion with vinegar, salt and water and set aside to macerate for an hour or more, mixing from time to time. Recipe can be made several hours ahead to this point.

To serve, arrange eggplants on a serving platter. Add the extra virgin olive oil, the garlic, honey and pepper to any juices left in the baking pan. Drain the onions, discarding liquid and add them to the pan and mix well. Distribute onions over the eggplants and sprinkle the fresh herbs over the top. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4-6

Notes: substitute other fresh herbs in season such as coriander or basil. If liked, crumble some goat’s cheese or feta over the top to make the dish more filling.

Spicy Lentil and Chick Pea Salad

Some friends are on my culinary wave length, so I know when they give me a recipe and say this is great I will like it. This lentil salad recipe came from my friend Lynne. I just added the chick peas which provide a nice flavour and texture contrast. Leave them out if you prefer. Spicy Lentil and Chick Pea Salad

1¼ cups (250g) green lentils
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 red capsicum (pepper) seeded and diced
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup sweet chilli sauce
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
½ cup fresh coriander, chopped
2 tbs sesame oil
2 tbs toasted sesame seeds
Pinch salt
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained

Place lentils in a saucepan and cover with plenty of water.  Bring to the boil and cook gently for 5 mins. Remove from heat and stand for 5 mins or until lentils are al dente. Time will vary according to the lentils you use, but don’t overcook or you won’t get a nice crisp salad. Drain and rinse under cold running water. Add remaining ingredients, then cool. Can be made a couple of days in advance and kept in the fridge, which only improves the flavour.

Serves 6

Roast Cauliflower

I’ve always been a fan of green vegetables such as cauliflower, brussels sprouts and broccoli, which a lot of people don’t like. When I was growing up cauliflower was boiled – usually for far too long – and served with a knob of butter, or margarine, if you were lucky. Sometimes a parsley or a cheese sauce would vastly improve the situation. But when I think back to those over-boiled veggies, I realise it’s hardly surprising some people were put off eating them for life.

All those vegetables which were traditionally boiled in water are much nicer when roasted in the oven with olive oil. Asparagus for example takes on a whole new character when cooked in this way. If you’ve never roasted caulfilower, give it a try. You might even convert some members of the family who don’t normally like this vegetable.

Roast Cauliflower

1 small or half a large cauliflower, cut into large flowerets
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs pine nuts
1 slice bread, made into crumbs in food processor
2-3 Tbs snipped chives

Pre-heat oven to 180ºC. Place cauliflower in a shallow roasting pan. Sprinkle with cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Mix with fingers to coat thoroughly, then bake for 30-40 mins or until cooked “al dente”. About halfway through the cooking time give the cauliflower a stir and sprinkle with the breadcrumbs and pine nuts.

Serve garnished with the chives, either hot or at room temperature. It’s even nice cold.

Serves 4-6

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Olives & Feta

When we lived in Chile in the 1990s I was President of Santiago Stage, an amateur theatre group which produced 3 or 4 plays a year in English. We raised money for a hospital which treated burnt children called Coaniquem and over two years we completely transformed a children’s home for 130 orphans called Los Girasoles. It was very satisfying and we had a lot of fun doing it. Our sitting room became the set for rehearsals for weeks on end. Fortunately I have a very tolerant husband.

While I was in Santiago recently my dear friend Elaine hosted a lunch to reunite our thespian friends. Elaine and I met in 1992 when we both had parts in a play called Home by David Storey. It’s about a home for people who are not quite right in the head, so we were definitely type cast. Elaine’s paternal uncle was the famous British actor Quentin Crisp and she has inherited his ability to tell a good story and make people laugh. When we took the play on tour to Concepcion (yes, we were very proud telling everyone that!) Elaine and I spent several hours in the dining car of the overnight train, drinking pisco sours and telling each other stories. We laughed so much I had a pain in my side. How we managed to get back to our carriage and into our narrow bunks I will never know. Elaine says I made her climb the ladder and sleep in the top bunk, but I honestly can’t remember.

When we arrived in Concepcion we were met by the head of the British Council. He had undertaken to book the theatre and sell tickets and we were staying at his house. As Elaine and I unpacked we could hear him making frantic phone calls. He had completely forgotten we were coming and hadn’t sold any tickets. We performed to an audience of about 20, but fortunately they all clapped loudly.

The day of the Santiago Stage reunion lunch was warm and sunny so we were able to sit outside. Elaine decided to do a buffet, consisting of quiches and lots of different salads and I helped. This carrot salad has been in my repertoire for many years and it’s always a good addition to a buffet, being both unusual and filling. Elaine had a lovely orange plate which was perfect to serve it on. Using whole baby carrots, if you can get them, makes it look even snazzier.

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Olives and Feta

1 kg carrots peeled and cut into fat sticks
2 large onions, chopped
2-3 bay leaves
2 Tbs fresh thyme or 4 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp cumin powder
4 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs sherry vinegar (or substitute another vinegar)
100g stoned green olives (I use pimento stuffed ones, cut in halves)
100g feta cheese (or substitute soft goat’s cheese)
Juice of one lemon or lime
Chopped fresh coriander
2 Tbs finely chopped preserved lemon, skin only (optional)

Heat oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions gently until soft – 5 minutes or so. Add the carrots and cook, stirring for 5 minutes more. Add thyme, sugar, cumin, salt and pepper, cover and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add vinegar and cook for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add olives, cover again and cook for another 10-15 minutes. Carrots should still have a bit of bite left in them. Place in a serving dish. Add the feta cubes and squeeze over the lemon or lime juice at the last minute. Garnish with the coriander and preserved lemon, if using. If preferred, keep the olives till the end and sprinkle them over with the coriander as a garnish as I did in this photo. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 8-12 as part of a buffet

Carrot Avocado and Orange Salad

I often make a salad using avocado and orange or grapefruit segments, which go well together. A recipe with the addition of oven-roasted carrots appeared recently in the Canberra Times and came from a cookbook called A Girl and Her Pig by April Bloomfield. I read through the method and found it unnecessarily complicated, so I made a few changes. I also added some honey to the dressing. Here is my tweaked version.

1 bunch baby carrots (about 750g)Carrot Avocado and Orange Salad
2-3 cloves garlic
1 rounded tsp cumin seeds
1 rounded tsp coriander seeds
1 tsp dried crushed chilli (or use some fresh)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 large oranges
2 large avocados
Juice of ½ a lemon
2 tsp honey
Coarsely chopped fresh coriander

Preheat oven to 200°C. Toast cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan over moderate heat for a minute or two, or until fragrant. Place in a mortar with garlic, chilli, a tsp of salt, some pepper, 4 Tbs of the oil and crush to a paste. Scrub and trim carrots but don’t peel. Leave a small bit of the greenery at the end. Place carrots in a large baking dish which holds them in one layer. Add paste, mix well to coat. Add ¼ cup water then place in the oven to roast for about half an hour, stirring halfway, until tender and starting to brown a bit. Remove from the oven and cool.

Meanwhile remove peel and pith from the oranges with a serrated knife, then remove each segment by cutting each side of the membrane. Place segments in a small dish and squeeze what’s left of the oranges over the top to remove all the juice. Peel and slice avocados lengthwise.

Arrange carrots, drained orange segments (keep juice) and avocado slices decoratively in a serving dish. Place cooking juices from the carrots in a jam jar. Add orange juice, lemon juice, remaining 2 Tbs oil, honey and salt and pepper to taste. Shake well and drizzle over the salad. Top with the fresh coriander and serve.

Serves 4

Mexican Slaw

This version of coleslaw uses Mexican flavours and a light oil and lime juice dressing. Crunchy, colourful and bursting with vitamins, it goes well with burgers, steaks or any roast or barbecued meat or poultry.

Mexican Slaw

2-3 cups finely shredded white cabbage
2-3 cups finely shredded red cabbage
1 cup raw pumpkin curls (made with a vegetable peeler)
1 cup raw corn kernels, cut off the cob (see note)
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
1 cup fresh coriander leaves, roughly chopped
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 small or ½ medium red onion, halved and finely sliced
1 punnet cherry tomatoes, halved
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime or ½ large lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp honey
2 Tbs pumpkin seeds
2 Tbs sunflower seeds

Place all ingredients for salad in a bowl. Place all ingredients for dressing in a jar and shake. Toast pumpkin and sunflower seeds by stirring in a dry pan over moderate heat for 2-3 minutes. Mix coleslaw with dressing and top with toasted seeds.

Serves 4-6

Note: or substitute frozen corn, blanched for a minute in hot water, or drained canned corn.

Variations: use carrot curls instead of pumpkin; add thinly sliced red capsicum (pepper) and/or zucchini or cucumber, cut into julienne sticks.

Beetroot, Fig & Fennel Salad with Creamy Dressing

I grew up in a house where beetroot – boiled, peeled, sliced and doused with malt vinegar – was nearly always on the table. My mother made a dish full every week and we ate it as a side dish.

Since then I’ve found lots of different ways of serving this somewhat underrated vegetable. I particularly enjoy it without the addition of vinegar, so the lovely earthy taste shines through. Roasted and served in a salad with rocket, feta or goat’s cheese and maple-glazed pecans or walnuts it’s absolutely delicious. But I seldom served it raw until I came across this recipe which will please all beetroot fans. It’s even better the next day and goes down very well at a BBQ.Beetroot and Fennel Salad

250-400g peeled and coarsely grated raw beetroot
70g dried figs, chopped (or substitute raisins, cranberries or other dried fruit)
lots of chopped fresh herbs – whatever you have (dill, coriander, parsley)
1 small bulb fennel finely sliced
¼ cup lemon juice, or to taste
1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise (preferably home made)
¼ cup plain yoghurt
1 Tbs cumin seeds, toasted in a dry frying pan

Mix beetroot, figs, herbs and fennel, then add oil, lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Make an hour or two before serving then tip into a serving bowl or spoon onto individual serving dishes. Mix mayonnaise with yoghurt and dollop over the top. Sprinkle with the cumin seeds.

Serves 4-6

Note: the mayo-yoghurt topping is optional