Eton Mess

Looking for a quick and easy dessert to serve over the Canberra Day long weekend? Eton Mess, a traditional English dessert which makes the most of the summer berries is quick, easy and delicious.

A mixture of meringue, berries and whipped cream, this dish was first mentioned in print in 1893 and is thought to have originated at Eton College in England, where it’s served at the annual cricket match against Harrow School.

In the 6th episode of the TV series The Gilded Age, which I’m currently watching, the French chef is asked to prepare a British meal. For dessert he makes Eton Mess, which he describes disparagingly as a mess made by a bunch of schoolboys.

The traditional recipe for this sumptuous dessert uses broken up meringues, either home-made or shop bought. I prefer to use a pavlova base, because the meringue is crunchy on the outside, but soft and marshmallowy on the inside. In Australia pavlova bases are sold in most big supermarkets.  I’m not sure if they are available in other countries, except perhaps New Zealand, but you can always make your own or use broken up hard meringues, which are more readily available around the world.

I like to use half fresh cream and half sour cream or crème fraîche, but if preferred you can use all fresh cream.

1 pavlova base to serve 12 (or about 12 large individual meringues)
250 ml whipping cream
250 ml sour cream or crème fraîche
1 Tbs icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
500g strawberries
2-3 tsp caster sugar
150-200g raspberries (or blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants etc)
Chocolate sprinkles (optional)

Wash strawberries, cut in half or slice if large and place in a bowl with the caster sugar. Mix and leave aside for an hour or two, so the juices start to run.

I used about three-quarters of a large pavlova base for this dish. Break off chunks and arrange about half of them in a large glass serving dish, or break up the hard meringues. If preferred, make individual servings using large whisky tumblers.

Scatter half the strawberries and half the raspberries or other berries over the meringue. Place the cream, sour cream, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl and whip using electric beaters until soft peaks form. Place blobs of the whipped cream over the meringue and fruit, then the rest of the pavlova/meringue pieces, the juices from the strawberries, the remaining cream and lastly the rest of the strawberries and raspberries. They are not shown in the photo, but if liked decorate the top with some chocolate sprinkles, which always look nice with berries and cream. Refrigerate until serving time and serve within a couple of hours.

Serves 6-8

Note: if liked, add a tablespoonful of a liqueur such as Kirsch, Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Curaçao to the strawberries and sugar.

 

 

Strawberry No Bake Cheesecake

This recipe is adapted from one called Narrabri Cheesecake which Matthew used to make before we met. Part of his bachelor repertoire, guaranteed to impress the girls. It’s quite rich and you will get at least twelve servings, enough to serve a crowd.

Crust:
150g plain sweet biscuits e.g. Digestives, Nice, Marie
100g butter, melted
Filling:
300ml whipping cream
750g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 can condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
Grated rind of one large lemon or two smaller ones
Topping:
250g strawberries, halved
Strawberry Sauce:
250g strawberries, diced
1-2 Tbs sugar, to taste
1 Tbs lemon juice

Butter a 22-24 cm (9-10 inch) springform cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper. Whizz the biscuits in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Mix with the melted butter, then press evenly over the base of the cake pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Using a stand mixer (my preference with this recipe) or hand beaters, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Scrape out into another bowl. No need to wash the first bowl – just add the cream cheese and mix until smooth. Add the condensed milk and lastly the lemon juice and rind. Use a spatula to scrape down the mixture stuck to the sides of the bowl, then mix a bit more. Fold through the whipped cream, scrape into the cake pan and smooth the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Clean and sort the strawberries, keeping the best ones to decorate and the rest for the sauce.

Strawberry Sauce: place all ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes then push through a sieve, discarding what won’t go through. Keep refrigerated.

Arrange halved strawberries over the top of the cheesecake. Run a knife with a thin blade around the sides of the cheesecake, undo the clip and remove. If you like, run a knife under the base of the cheesecake, under the paper, so you can remove the base. If preferred, just leave the base on. Slice cheesecake using a large knife dipped in hot water. Serve sauce (not shown in photo) separately in a small jug.

Serves  12-16

Variations: use other berries.

 

Chocolate Fondant Puddings

This quick and easy recipe for individual chocolate fondant puddings – the ones with delicious molten chocolate centres that were all the rage in restaurants some years back – is adapted from one by Australia’s best-selling cookbook author, Donna Hay.

I used individual silicone moulds, but any small containers, such as metal dariole moulds, ramekins or coffee cups, will do. To make them gluten-free leave out the flour and increase the almond meal by a quarter of a cup. Make your own almond meal by blitzing almonds, with or without skin, it doesn’t matter, in a food processor until finely ground. I made the full recipe of six puddings, but only cooked two and froze the rest uncooked and covered. They take a few minutes longer to cook from frozen.

¾ cup almond meal
¼ cup plain flour
¼ cup icing sugar
2 egg whites
100g butter, melted
160g dark chocolate, melted
12 squares dark chocolate, extra
To serve:
Thick pouring cream
Cocoa powder

Preheat oven to 170°C and grease six individual moulds with oil or butter. Place almond meal, flour, sugar, egg whites, melted butter and chocolate in a bowl and mix well with a balloon whisk. Spoon half the mixture into the six moulds, press two squares of chocolate into the middle of each, then cover with remaining mixture. Bake for 12-15 minutes until set on top. Test by pushing with your finger. Stand for 3-4 minutes, then loosen the edges with a knife, tip out and serve with cream and a dusting of cocoa powder through a sieve.

Serves 6

Substitutions: if you don’t have almonds use walnuts.

Roast Pork with Black Pudding, Bacon and Rhubarb Sauce

This recipe from the BBC’s Good Food site makes an elegant dish for entertaining (just double the recipe) or dinner for two on a special occasion such as a birthday, anniversary or Valentines Day. It’s very easy and most of the preparation can be done ahead of serving time.

1 fillet of pork, weighing about 350g
125g black pudding
6-8 rashers streaky bacon
2-3 tsp oil
Black pepper
2 tsp honey
6 stalks rhubarb
½ cup stock (chicken or veg)
2 Tbs cream, sour cream or crème fraîche

Cut the pork along the middle without cutting right through. Skin and finely chop the black pudding and stuff into the hole in the pork. Squeeze the fillet closed. Stretch out the bacon rashers with the back of a knife and use to wrap around the pork, with the ends underneath, or use toothpicks to hold it in place. Can be prepared ahead to this stage.

Preheat oven to 190°C. Place pork in a roasting pan, drizzle with the oil and season with pepper. Roast for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile wash and trim the rhubarb, cut into 3cm lengths and mix with the honey. Add to the roasting pan after 30mins, then cook for a further 10-12 minutes or until rhubarb is tender and bacon is browned. Remove pork and rhubarb from the roasting pan and keep warm. Place roasting pan on the hotplate, add the stock and cream and cook, stirring, until thickened to the consistency of a coating sauce. Check for seasoning.

Slice pork thickly and serve with the rhubarb and the sauce.

Serves 3

Roast Pork Belly with Plum Sauce

I recently gave away my deep fat fryer, to make room in the cupboard for a newly-acquired air fryer.

Deep fried food isn’t good for cholesterol levels and I never knew what to do with all that half-used oil. I put the deep fat fryer on a local Facebook “buy nothing” website and a friendly Turkish man collected it within an hour. Better his cholesterol than ours.

I bought a smallish 5 litre air fryer for under $100. It has a five litre capacity which is big enough to make a family-sized batch of chips (French fries) when the grandkids come, or as a treat for us – steak and chips or fish and chips for dinner never fails to put a smile on Matthew’s face.

Since it arrived a couple of weeks ago I’ve tried my new gadget on chips and calamari rings – the ready crumbed frozen ones you buy in a supermarket – and suffice it to say, I’m hooked. They took less than half an hour to cook from frozen and were perfect. There are only two settings to deal with on the model I bought – temperature and time. You can pull out the drawer at any time to give the food a shake and see how it’s doing. No. 1 son was impressed and put it on his Xmas Wish List.

Last night it was time to put the machine to the ultimate test – crispy roast pork belly. As you can see from the photos, it was amazing and all done in less than an hour. Two big pluses with an air fryer are firstly that the kitchen stays cool (this will be great in mid-summer) and secondly the oven doesn’t get spattered with pork fat. I haven’t done a whole roast chicken yet, but that’s on the list.

800g – 1kg boneless pork belly, with skin
2 tsp salt
Oil spray
Plum Sauce:
6 medium plums, stoned (see note below)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ red onion, chopped
2 Tbs tamari sauce (or substitute ketchup manis or soy sauce)
1 tsp chilli flakes (or to taste)
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
Sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste

Preheat air fryer to 200°C for three minutes. Cut through the pork skin with parallel cuts in two directions. Rub all over with salt, place in the air fryer basket and spray the skin with oil. Cook for 25 minutes, then lower the heat to 160°C and cook for a further 30 minutes, or until cooked to your liking. Serve with the sauce and a steamed green vegetable.

Sauce: Place all ingredients except sweetener in a medium saucepan and simmer for 20 minutes or until everything is soft. Cool then blend until smooth. Sweeten to taste with a little sugar, honey or maple syrup. I used a tablespoonful of sugar.

Serves 4

Note: Freeze stoned plums during the season, six to a bag. They are useful to make this recipe, or to add to fruit crumbles. The plum sauce keeps in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for several months.

 

 

 

 

Swedish Almond Cake

Swedish Almond Cake (Mandeltarta) was made internationally famous by IKEA who sell it frozen in their stores. I decided to make my own.

The recipe makes a small cake which will serve 8. To make a bigger cake use two 24-25cm cake tins and increase the ingredients by fifty per cent, using 6 eggs instead of 4.

Meringues:
4 eggs whites
Pinch salt
80g sugar
140g ground almonds (see note)
Filling: 
4 egg yolks
75g sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
125ml cream (½ cup)
2-3 Tbs flaked blanched almonds, lightly toasted by stirring in a dry pan over moderate heat
125g unsalted butter, at room temp
125ml cream (½ cup) extra
To serve:
Fresh raspberries and cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 190°C. Grease and bottom-line two 20cm cake pans. Beat egg whites and salt with electric beaters until soft peaks form, then gradually add the sugar, beating continuously, until you have a stiff meringue. Fold in the ground almonds.

Divide evenly between the cake pans and smooth the tops. Bake for 25 mins then cool. Meanwhile in a non-stick milk pan, mix the egg yolks, sugar, vanilla and cream with a balloon whisk. Turn on the heat and cook, stirring continuously, until thickened. Scrape into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Cake can be prepared to this stage the day before or several hours ahead.

With electric beaters mix butter until light and airy then mix in the refrigerated custard in two lots. Add the extra cream and continue to whip for a minute or so. Remove paper from meringues and place one on a serving plate. Cover with half the filling then place the second meringue on top. Use remaining filling to cover the top of the cake. The original recipe covers the sides as well, but  I just covered the top. Sprinkle flaked almonds all over. Refrigerate until serving time.

Serve alone or with fresh berries and cream.

Serves 8

Note: make almond meal by blitzing shelled almonds (blanched or unblanched, your choice) in a food processor.

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 a very light starter. 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 little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a few salt flakes.

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

Renés Chicken with Pernod

For over two decades, the iconic Omaha restaurant Dixie Quicks drew customers of all ages and backgrounds like a magnet, for good food, acceptance and respect. René Orduña ran the restaurant with his husband Rob Gilmer and it soon became a hotspot for artists, drag queens, musicians and creative types, giving sanctuary and guidance to gay Omahans.

When René died of cancer in 2016 Rob continued to run the restaurant on his own for two years. But it was not the same. “This was Renés restaurant” he said. “He was the catalyst, he was the force.” So after 22 years in business Dixie Quicks finally closed its doors in January 2018.

René gave his recipe for Chicken with Pernod to my cousin Mary Beth who lives in Omaha. It was one of the most popular dishes on the menu and her favourite.

2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts (or 4 small ones)
1/3 to 1/2 cup plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tsp butter and 2 tsp oil
1 large shallot or 1 small onion, finely diced
250g tomatoes cut in quarters or cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ to ½ cup chicken stock
½ cup cream (or coconut cream)
½ cup Pernod
To serve
:
Steamed Rice
Finely chopped parsley

Trim chicken breasts, cut each one in half and hammer out a bit with a meat mallet. Season the flour and use it to coat chicken on both sides, discarding any excess. Heat butter and oil in a frying pan which holds the 4 pieces of chicken in one layer. Brown chicken on both sides, then lower the heat and continue to cook until cooked through. Remove from pan.

Add shallots or onion to the pan and cook, stirring over low heat until soft. Add tomatoes and a little salt and pepper. Return chicken to the pan, add Pernod and stir to deglaze the pan. Flambé, shaking the pan until the flames subside. Add chicken stock and cream and cook, stirring and turning the chicken until sauce has thickened and reduced a bit. This will only take a coupe of minutes. Check for seasoning.

Serve over steamed rice, sprinkled with parsley.

Servs 4

 

Chicken with Coconut Pilaf

We recently hosted a 60th birthday dinner on a balmy summer’s evening, for a friend who follows a gluten-free, dairy-free diet.

Watermelon and Feta squares went down well with drinks on the verandah, then we started the meal with Gin-Cured Salmon with Kewpie Mayonnaise and Pickled Grapes and finished with Big Mary’s Mexican Bombe. I replaced the dairy cream with Organic Coconut Whipping Cream, made by The Tender Table and sold in some specialty shops. With six candles, one for each decade, this dessert doubled as a birthday cake.

For the main course I served this chicken dish which was given to me by my daughter’s friend Mel over a decade ago. Mel is a fabulous chef and now makes special cakes to order in Canberra.

A chicken supreme is a boneless breast with the skin and first section of the wing left on. If you’re not sure what it looks like watch this video. There’s a shop in a nearby shopping mall that specialises in chicken. They didn’t have supremes on display, but the butcher knew what I wanted and prepared them for me.

Chicken:
6-8 chicken supremes (boneless breasts with skin & first piece of wing attached)
Grated rind 1 lemon
1-2 small red chillies, very finely chopped
2 Tbs finely chopped coriander
2 Tbs olive oil
S and P
Pilaf:
2 Tbs  butter (or olive oil to keep it dairy-free)
2 cups basmati rice
1 x 400ml can coconut milk or cream and about 2 tins water
Juice of 1 lime or half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salad:
2 cups beansprouts
2 cups coriander leaves – broken off, not chopped
2 cups Vietnamese mint leaves (or ordinary mint)
2 cups purple basil leaves (or ordinary basil)
Dressing:
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs vinegar
To serve:
toasted shredded coconut

Trim any untidy bits off the chicken and if you think they look a bit too big, remove the fillets and keep them for a stir fry another day. Mix the chicken with the marinate ingredients and leave for several hours, or overnight if possible, in the fridge. Arrange chicken on a shallow baking tray (lined with baking paper if liked) and bake for 25-30 mins at 180°C, or until cooked and tender. Be careful not to overcook it, or it will be dry.

For the pilaf melt butter, add rice and stir to coat. Add coconut cream or milk and stir over low heat until the rice starts to thicken. Add water, lime juice, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then cover tightly and cook on a very low heat until liquid has all been absorbed. You may need to add slightly more or less water, so don’t add it all at the beginning and see how it goes, stirring and adding more if necessary. You can also do the rice in a rice cooker, just putting all the ingredients in together and adding a bit more water towards the end, if necessary.

Remove any stringy bits from the beansprouts. For the salad dressing, heat vinegar and sugar in a small pan, bring to the boil. Boil for a minute then cool. Mix all the salad ingredients together and at the last minute add the dressing, mixing gently using your fingers, so you don’t bruise the leaves.

To serve, divide rice among six serving plates. Place chicken on rice, top with the salad and finally the toasted coconut. I used large dried coconut from Aldi, stirred in a dry frying pan over moderate heat until lightly browned.

Serves 6-8

Lobster & Mango Salad with Thai Dressing

This salad is perfect for a New Year’s Eve buffet. I’ve been making it for about 20 years and it’s always a hit. One of my top ten cold recipes.  If preferred, use peeled prawns instead of lobster as I have in the photo. You will need a kilo of prawns to end up with half a kilo once they are peeled. Serve on individual plates as a starter or on one large platter as part of a buffet.

500g cooked lobster (crayfish) meat, or cooked shelled prawns
2 slightly underripe mangoes, skinned, sliced and cut into julienne sticks
1 med red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 bunch spring onions, white & some of the green, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 bunch coriander, leaves picked off (keep the stalks for the dressing)
A handful of basil leaves, picked off and torn in half if large
60g baby spinach
1 cup beansprouts
Dressing:
¾ cup lime juice
80g palm sugar or brown sugar
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only
Stalks from 1 bunch of coriander
2 Tbs Fish sauce
Garnish:
¾ cup unsalted cashews
Extra Virgin olive oil

Make dressing: Heat lime juice in a small saucepan with palm sugar and stir to dissolve. Place in food processor with remaining ingredients. Process till fairly smooth, then tip into a jar with a lid. Can be made ahead and refrigerated.

Slice lobster meat into large chunky pieces. If using prawns just peel, devein and leave whole. Mix with a little of the dressing and the chilli and refrigerate till serving time. Toast cashews in a dry pan, over medium heat. Wash spinach, basil, beansprouts and coriander. Dry in a salad spinner then refrigerate in the spinner. Prepare mango and spring onions and refrigerate, separately. All ingredients can be prepared well ahead.

To serve, mix spinach, coriander leaves, basil leaves, beansprouts and spring onions with enough dressing to moisten. Divide between six individual plates or pile into one large serving dish. Arrange the lobster or prawns on top and garnish with the mango and cashews. Drizzle with extra dressing if liked. You may not need all the mango, depending on the size of the mangoes you use. Drizzle a little olive oil around the salad.

Serves 6 as a starter or light lunch, 4 as a main course or 10 to 12 as part of a buffet

Notes: if you don’t have lemongrass use a couple of strips of lemon or lime peel, removed with a potato peeler. If you don’t have unsalted cashews, salted ones will do. If you don’t have lime juice use lemon juice.