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

Spinach Salad with Red Dressing

When we were living in Pretoria, South Africa, in the late 1980s someone brought a delicious spinach salad to a pot luck BBQ we were hosting. I made a mental note of the ingredients in the salad, but it took me a while to get the sweet and sour red dressing right.

This salad is very popular as part of a buffet or to accompany a BBQ. The ingredients are unusual and the contrast of the spinach and eggs with the red dressing looks good. I used to call it Sweet and Sour Dressing, but as everyone in the family called it Red Dressing, I decided to go with the flow. Serve in a large shallow bowl, so there is only one layer of each ingredient, then spoon the dressing over at the last minute and serve without mixing.

The bowl in the photo is hand made and was bought at the craft market at Los Dominicos in Santiago, Chile. We lived in Santiago for 4 wonderful years and every time I return I end up bringing back a salad bowl for someone who has admired mine and asked for the spinach salad recipe. It’s a perfect size and shape for this salad.

Spinach Salad with Red Dressing

2-3 packets baby spinach leaves or use half spinach and half lettuce leaves
1-2 cups bean sprouts
4-6 hard boiled eggs
4-6 rashers bacon, diced
1 can water chestnuts
Red Dressing (see below)

Wash and dry spinach and remove stalks. Wash and dry bean sprouts and sprinkle over. Drain and slice water chestnuts and sprinkle over. Cut eggs into halves or quarters, lengthwise and arrange over the salad. Can prepare ahead to this stage. Just before serving fry the bacon in a pan without oil until crisp, dry on paper towels and sprinkle over the salad. Vegetarians can leave out the bacon. Just before serving spoon over some Red Dressing.

Serves 8-10 or more as part of a buffet

Red Dressing

¼ cup sugar
a pinch of salt
1 small onion or ½ medium
½ cup cider or white wine vinegar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
½ cup tomato ketchup

Process all ingredients in food processor until smooth. Keep in the fridge in a jar with a lid. Shake well before using. Goes well with any salad but especially with Spinach Salad.

Tri-Colour Coleslaw

At our rural property we had a good crop of cabbages until the earwigs found them. Matthew went up there for a couple of days earlier this week to water the new trees and brought a cabbage back with him. As I started to remove some of the outer chewed leaves out jumped a million earwigs! They were everywhere and it was easy to see what they had been eating. I had to throw away about about half the cabbage before I got down to virgin territory.

I’ve been reading up on the internet about tried and tested earwig traps and saving empty containers with lids. Vegetable oil with the addition of something attractive to earwigs, such as a dollop of peanut butter or the oil/juice from a can of tuna, is said to do the trick – it lures them in and they drown. We’re going to the property the weekend after next and those b***** earwigs had better watch out!

Coleslaw when I was growing up was pretty standard – cabbage, carrot and bought mayonnaise – or Heinz salad cream – sometimes with a tin of crushed pineapple thrown in for good measure. This is a more modern version.

Tri-Colour ColeslawAbout 4 cups shredded white cabbage
About 4 cups shredded red cabbage
About 1 cup thinly sliced celery
About 1 cup coarsely grated or julienned carrot
About ½ cup thinly sliced green (spring) onions
1 cup dried cranberries (or other dried fruit)
1 cup mayonnaise, preferably home-made
½ cup thick Greek yoghurt or sour cream
½ cup French dressing (see below)

Prepare salad ingredients and place in a large bowl. Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously to emulsify. Add enough dressing to the salad to moisten to your liking – you may not want to use it all. Taste and add more salt if you think it needs it.

Serves 6-8

French Dressing
1 cup oil (sunflower, canola)
¼ cup cider or white wine vinegar
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbs honey (optional)
1-2 cloves garlic peeled and halved

Place all ingredients in a jam jar with a lid and shake vigorously to emulsify. Keeps in the fridge for up to a month. I usually make double or triple in a very large jar so it’s always on hand when I need it. If you like a sweet dressing add the honey. Otherwise just add about half a tsp of sugar.

Garlic butter

As I made a batch of garlic butter to have in the fridge over the holiday season I thought to myself that it’s one of those recipes which has become “retro”. Popular in the seventies and eighties, we used it in garlic bread, on steaks and grilled fish and in Chicken Kiev. But then it went out of favour, along with prawn cocktail, beef bourgignon, steak Diane and all the other dishes we enjoyed before gastronomy took off. Suddenly these recipes weren’t posh enough.

Whenever I serve garlic bread to a crowd – fresh from the oven and oozing home-made garlic butter – it always disappears. And a dollop of garlic butter on a freshly barbecued steak, piece of fish or succulent prawn is delicious. So here’s the recipe. Oh and it’s probably a good idea to label the container so the kids don’t ask why the butter’s gone green!

Garlic butter

3 heaped Tbs fresh parsley leaves, stalks removed
3 Tbs snipped chives or the green ends of spring onions
1-2 large cloves garlic, crushed
1 250g tub spreadable butter
pinch salt

Place herbs in food processor and process till finely chopped, stopping to scrape down the sides halfway through. Add garlic, butter and salt and process till mixed. Return to the plastic butter container and refrigerate. Keeps for 2-3 weeks in the fridge, but much longer in the freezer. Just thaw long enough to use what you need then put back.

Garlic Bread: make diagonal cuts in a French baguette, not quite through to the bottom. Spread each slice with garlic butter. Wrap the loaf in foil and refrigerate or freeze till needed. Thaw if frozen then bake in a hot oven for about 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Healthy dinners

I’m always looking for healthy but tasty dishes to serve during the week.  Low in carbs and calories, but appetizing and quick.  On Monday we had baked salmon with lentils – saute a chopped onion in a little olive oil until soft, then add a drained and rinsed can of lentils, a tablespoon of vinegar, a couple of tablespoons of chopped herbs (I used dill), salt and pepper and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes.  Meanwhile place the salmon portions on an oven tray lined with a piece of lightly oiled foil (great way to save on washing up!), season then bake in a preheated hot oven (200C) for about 7-8 minutes – we like it fairly rare inside.   Serve salmon on a bed of lentils with a lemon wedge to squeeze on top.

Last night we had zucchini (courgettes) with pork burgers.  The burger recipe came from one of Bill Granger’s books which I flicked through while we were in Newcastle last weekend, staying with our daughter and her family.   The zucchini recipe I cut out of a magazine some time ago.  The zucchini were from the garden, so of course they were even more delicious!

Pork Burgers

500g pork mince
½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
½ onion, grated
1 Tbs chopped parsley
1 egg
1 tsp fennel seeds, toasted and crushed with a mortar and pestle
S and P

Mix all together in a bowl then form into four burgers about 10cm in diameter.  Cook on an oiled griddle pan over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes each side, or until cooked through.  Serve as Bill suggests, in a toasted bun with rocket, red onion and roasted red capsicum and sweet potato fries on the side.  Or as we had them, just as they were, with a green vegetable.

Serves 4

Lemon Zucchini with Pine Nuts

3-4 medium zucchini (courgettes)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
Pinch of crushed dried chilli, or some fresh chilli, or chilli paste
Juice and zest of 1 lemon
1 Tbs roughly chopped parsley
2 Tbs pine nuts, toasted
S and P

Wash and dry zucchini, cut off the ends then quarter lengthwise and cut into 3-4cm sticks.  Heat oil in a large frying pan.  Add zucchini and cook, stirring, for 3-4 minutes.  Add garlic and chilli and continue to cook until zucchini is starting to colour and soften.  Add lemon juice and zest and continue to cook, stirring, until the liquid has been absorbed.  Season with S and P, stir through the parsley and serve sprinkled with the pine nuts.

Serves 4 as a side dish

A mid-week BBQ

Some neighbours have sold their house and are moving, so we invited them round for a farewell BBQ dinner. With drinks I served Tuna and Avocado Spoons, drizzled with a Wasabi dressing. Invented by my daughter Catherine, these delicious mouthfuls make the most of sashimi grade tuna and are made in a jiffy.

For the main course we barbecued some Chicken and Chorizo kebabs and served them with Crispy Potatoes with Bacon and Rosemary (Delicious magazine February 2012) and Shaved Fennel and Zucchini Salad topped with crumbled feta – another winner from Catherine. For dessert a crustless Lemon Tart with cream. The weather has suddenly turned wintry so we had to eat inside. A week ago we were able to sit outside until eleven when some other friends joined us for dinner. It’s been a very strange summer weather-wise.

Tuna and Avocado Spoons with Wasabi Dressing

200-250g piece of sashimi-grade tuna
1 or 2 avocados, halved and thinly sliced
Fresh Coriander leaves
Lightly toasted sesame seeds to garnish – black ones look good
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs soy sauce
1½ Tbs sesame oil
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs brown sugar
¼ tsp wasabi paste, or to taste

Slice tuna thinly. This is easier to do if the tuna has been frozen and is only partially thawed. Arrange a piece on Chinese spoons, top each with a slice of avocado and a coriander leaf. Drizzle with dressing, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve when the tuna has thawed – it will only take a few minutes.

Dressing: Place all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously.

Makes 16-20 spoons

Chicken and Chorizo Kebabs

1kg boned and skinned chicken thighs
About 1.5kg raw chorizo sausages
1 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp smoked paprika (or ordinary paprika is fine)
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp brown sugar

Soak about 16 wooden skewers in cold water for 20 mins or so. Place marinade ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Trim chicken to remove any fat or gristle and cut into 2.5cm cubes and add to marinade. Stir to combine – chicken will pretty much absorb it. Cut the sausages into 1cm slices. Thread chicken and chorizo onto skewers, alternating them. Leave aside in a dish to continue marinating. Can be made ahead and kept covered in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

Cook on a medium-hot barbecue for 8-10 minutes each side or until cooked through.

Makes about 16 kebabs

Shaved Fennel and Zucchini Salad with Dill and Feta

1 or 2 zucchini depending on size, sliced very thinly
1-2 bulbs of fennel, depending on size, sliced very thinly
2/3 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
½ cup toasted pine nuts
100g feta cheese
4-5 handfuls rocket leaves
¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
salt to taste
1 tsp honey

The quickest way to cut the zucchini (courgettes) and fennel is through the slicing blade of a Magimix or using a mandoline. Place in a bowl with dill and rocket. Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously. Mix dressing with salad then pile into a shallow flattish serving dish. Sprinkle the pine nuts and crumbled feta over the top.

Crispy Potatoes with Bacon and Rosemary

1 kg potatoes cut into 3cm cubes (I used kipfler from the garden)
2-3 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked off
1/4 cup + 1 Tbs olive oil
3 rashers bacon, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbs chopped parsley

If liked peel the potatoes or just scrub them well and cut into cubes. Line a roasting pan with baking paper and set the oven to 180°C. Mix potatoes with 1/4 cup olive oil, rosemary leaves, salt and pepper to taste. Tip into the roasting pan and roast for about 40 minutes, or until golden, stirring once or twice during cooking time.. Meanwhile heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a frying pan and cook bacon for 2 minutes, stirring, then add onion and garlic and continue to cook for 8-10 minutes until soft. Add onion and bacon to the potatoes, mix through then continue to bake for a further 10 mins. Mix in the parsely and serve.

Crustless Lemon Tart

120g butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
250ml cream
1/2 cup lemon juice
finely grated rind of 2 lemons
120g self-raising, sifted

Preheat oven to 170°C. Lightly butter a ceramic quiche or similar round dish and line the bottom with baking paper. With electric beaters, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. In another bowl with the same beaters, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolks, cream and lemon juice and rind. Fold in the sifted flour and lastly the egg whites, in two batches. Tip into the dish and bake for about 25-35 minutes or until set to the touch and golden. Turn off the oven, open the door and leave the tart to cool in the oven.

When cool, refrigerate until serving time. Dust with icing sugar and serve with thick cream.

Serves 8-10

Note: the reason for whipping the egg whites first even though you add them last is simply to save having to wash the beaters. Egg whites must be whipped with clean beaters.,