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.

Beef and Chestnut Casserole

When I was growing up in England in the 60s my mother regularly made a beef and chestnut casserole in winter, which we all loved.

She found the recipe on the back of an Oxo beef stock cube packet. Apart from beef, chestnuts and Oxo cubes I remember she added sherry or red wine, but I didn’t have the recipe. A couple of years ago I contacted the makers or Oxo cubes to see if they could help, but they couldn’t.

I decided to have a go at recreating this dish and here is the result. Simple but delicious. Served with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable it’s perfect for a winter gathering.

1.2kg lean beef (chuck steak, gravy beef) cut into 2cm cubes
2 Tbs plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbs olive oil
2 large brown onions, chopped
2 beef Oxo cubes, crumbled (or use another brand)
1 cup dry sherry or red wine
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried
2-3 carrots, sliced (optional)
2-3 cups water
400g peeled chestnuts (see note below)
Chopped parsley to garnish

Mix beef with seasoned flour to coat thoroughly. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a large non-stick frying pan and brown the meat on both sides. Remove to a large casserole dish with a lid. Repeat with remaining beef and another Tbs of oil. Add to the casserole. Add the last Tbs oil to the frying pan and cook the onions, stirring often, until softened but not browned. Add to the casserole with the sherry or red wine, thyme, and carrots If using.

If you use fresh uncooked chestnuts you have peeled yourself add them now. If using cooked ones add them later.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Mix  2 cups of water into the casserole and bake for 2-3 hours or until meat is tender. Check and stir every hour or so and add more water if necessary. You want the casserole to be nice and thick. If using cooked chestnuts add them about half an hour before the casserole is ready.

If preferred, cook the casserole in a slow cooker for about 4 hours on High or 8 hours on Low. If using this method you will definitely need less water than when using an oven.

I like to make casseroles the day before serving as it improves the flavour. Reheat on the day with the addition of a little more water, if required.

Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with mashed potatoes (with lots of butter added) and a green vegetable.

Serve 6-8

Note: fresh chestnuts are fiddly to peel so I bought two 200g packets of peeled, cooked whole chestnuts made by a company called Cheznuts. At $12 a packet they’re not cheap but they were certainly convenient.

 

Baked Gnocchi with Tomatoes, Basil and Cheese

This is a very quick and easy dish to feed your kids or grandkids, using a packet of bought gnocchi.

It can be thrown together in no time at all, but if you feel like making your own gnocchi, by all means do so. I made it with the packet variety when a couple of the grandkids were coming for dinner and it was really quite tasty.

500g packet potato gnocchi
2 Tbs olive oil
250g cherry tomatoes, halved (or larger tomatoes, quartered)
125g fresh mozzarella, cut into chunks, or use small bocconcini balls
1 cup fresh basil leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts (optional)
¾ cup cream
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 200°C. Place gnocchi in a bowl, cover with boiling water and leave to stand for 2-3 minutes. Drain well. Tip gnocchi into a shallow lasagne-type dish. Add the olive oil and seasoning and mix well. Tuck the tomatoes, mozzarella chunks or bocconcini balls and most of the basil in between the gnocchi. Scatter the pine nuts over, drizzle with the cream and sprinkle with the grated cheddar.

Bake for 20-30 minutes or until golden brown and cooked. Garnish with remaining basil and serve with a green salad.

Serves 4

 

Maltagliata of Beef with Balsamic Dressing

My friend Bettina recommended this delicious and quick recipe for beef from Melbourne-based chef Karen Martini.

I’ve tweaked it a little and reduced the ingredients to serve two people rather than four. It’s easy enough to double or triple to make more servings. Use any tender cut of beef.  I used one large T-bone steak which weighed just over 400g after I had removed the bone and excess fat. Any salad mixture will do, although I think the slightly bitter radicchio leaves make a difference.

It’s a fairly simple recipe which allows good quality beef, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar to shine.

About 6 big handfuls of mixed salad greens (rocket, baby spinach, lettuce, radicchio)
A handful of parsley leaves and a handful of basil leaves
About 400g steak cut into stir-fry slices (fillet, rump or sirloin)
2-3 Tbs plain flour
1 Tbs olive oil to fry the meat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
½ a small red onion, thinly sliced
125g fresh ricotta cheese
2 Tbs pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry frying pan
1-2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, extra
Salad Dressing:
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
7 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Mix steak with the flour, shaking off and discarding any excess. Prepare salad ingredients, cutting or breaking any large leaves to bite-size. Place salad dressing ingredients in a jar and shake.

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based frying pan and add steak over medium heat. Separate the pieces and allow them to cook on one side, without moving, for 2 minutes. Turn the meat over and season. Add the onion and balsamic vinegar and continue to cook, swirling the pan, for another minute or so, until the onions have softened a bit.

Place salad ingredients and herbs in a bowl and add enough salad dressing to coat. You won’t need it all. Arrange salad on one large or two individual serving plates. Use tongs to arrange steak over the top, dot with blobs of ricotta and scatter over the pine nuts. Drizzle the extra virgin olive oil over and around the salad.

Serves 2

 

Mazza’s Ceviche Dip

Ceviche originated in Peru, as a means of keeping fish before refrigeration was available. Some people don’t like the idea of eating ceviche, because the fish is not cooked. In fact the lemon or lime juice “cooks” the fish without heat and softens the texture, so it doesn’t taste raw.

This delicious recipe from my dear friend Mazza has been known to convert quite a few people who didn’t think they liked ceviche or have never tried it. Served with corn chips, it’s great to pass round with pre-dinner drinks. If preferred, skip the corn chips and serve it on Chinese spoons. With the addition of tomato ketchup it’s not a traditional ceviche recipe, but a good crowd pleaser.

Choose best quality white fish and give it a few hours in the fridge before serving.

500g firm white fish fillets, cut into 1-2cm cubes
2 Tbs chopped spring onions
½ red onion, finely chopped
Juice of 1lime
1 large tomato, skinned, seeded and chopped
¾ cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
2 tsp oregano
1 small red chilli, including seeds, finely chopped (leave out the seeds if preferred)
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbs chopped lemon grass
Lots of chopped fresh coriander
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
To serve:
Corn chips

When you cut up the fish discard any stringy bits. Mix all ingredients together and refrigerate for a few hours.

Serve with corn chips.

Note: if you don’t have any lemon grass, remove the peel from half to one lemon with a potato peeler and chop it very finely. Other possible substitutions: lemon instead of lime juice, white instead of red onion and parsley instead of coriander.

Spicy Roast Cauliflower with Chickpeas and Spinach

Woolworths supermarkets publish a free recipe magazine every month and I sometimes pick one up when I’m doing my weekly shopping. This recipe appealed to me, so I tore it out.

When I came to make it I couldn’t believe how complicated the method was. Using exactly the same ingredients, but a completely different method, I created this version which was delicious.

1 large cauliflower
Water
1 tsp vegetable or chicken stock powder (or ½ a cube)
25g butter
3 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs Za’atar (spice mix)
2 tsp sumac
2 Tbs tomato paste
¼ cup red wine or cider vinegar
¼ cup currants
1-2 Tbs maple syrup, to taste
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
2 cups baby spinach
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut cauliflower into large florets and place in a large mixing bowl. Place any small bits of cauliflower, as well as the stalk and any leaves, cut up, in a saucepan. Add enough water to barely cover and the stock powder. Bring to the boil, then simmer until tender. Cool for 10 minutes then puree in a food processor or with a stick blender, adding the butter and salt and pepper to taste. If making ahead, scrape the puree back into the saucepan, so you can reheat it at serving time.

Preheat oven to 200°C. To the cauliflower florets add the olive oil, Za’atar, sumac, salt and pepper to taste and mix well. Line a large shallow baking tray with non-stick baking paper and spread cauliflower over in one layer. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until al dente and starting to brown on the edges.

While cauliflower is cooking place tomato paste, vinegar, currants, maple syrup, chickpeas and half a cup of water in a frying pan and cook, stirring often for 5 minutes or until reduced and thickened. Just before serving mix in the spinach and remove from the heat.

To serve, spread cauliflower puree over one large serving plate or several individual plates. Top with the roasted cauliflower, then spoon over the chickpea mixture. If liked drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil around the plate.

Serves 6

Note: if you don’t have any Za’atar or sumac, make your own spice mixture with cumin, coriander and dried thyme or oregano. If you don’t have any currants, use sultanas, raisins or dried cherries.

Apricot and Almond Cake

Suzanne, a fellow-subscriber to a Facebook cooking site for fans of Yotam Ottolenghi, kindly sent me this recipe.

With a dollop of thick cream it doubled as a 90th birthday cake and dessert at a celebration lunch I hosted recently. The original recipe was made in a 7 inch square cake tin and as I used a 9 inch one, I increased all the ingredients. It worked out perfectly.

The recipe uses canned apricot halves (or peaches), but I am pretty sure you could use fresh apricots, peaches or plums. As the fruit contains quite a bit of moisture I would tend towards overcooking this cake, rather than undercooking. The more cooked edges were chewy and tastier than the middle of the cake.

This cake is gluten-free and if you want to make it dairy-free use margarine instead of a dairy spread.

250g icing sugar
5 eggs
250g soft spreadable butter (or margarine)
250g shelled almonds (blanched or un-blanched)
2 x 400g cans apricot (or peach) halves (or one 800g can)
½ cup flaked or slivered almonds
1 Tbs sugar
To serve:
Icing sugar (optional)
Thick cream or whipped cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 9 inch (22cm) square cake pan. Place one piece of baking paper one way, covering opposite sides and the bottom and leaving a bit extending above the cake pan to make it easier to lift the cake out after cooking. Then use another rectangle of baking paper to cover the other two sides and the base. So the base will have two layers. Spray or brush with a little oil.

In a stand mixer or using electric hand held beaters whisk the eggs and sugar until thick, creamy and doubled in volume. Add the butter and continue mixing until combined. Place shelled almonds in food processor and process until fairly fine. Add almonds to the egg, sugar and butter mixture and carefully combine. Scrape batter into cake pan and smooth the top.

Thoroughly drain the apricots and pat them dry with paper towels then arrange over the top of the cake, pushing them in slightly. Mine were small and I used 5 halves each way, 25 in total, with 3-4 left over. Sprinkle flaked or slivered almonds over the cake and lastly the sugar.

Bake for 40-50 minutes or until well risen and golden brown. Test with a skewer in the middle – when cooked it should come out clean. Cook the cake for a bit longer rather than risk undercooking it in the middle.

When completely cool lift cake from the pan onto a serving plate using the paper, then carefully peel or cut it off. You may have to leave the paper on the bottom. If liked, dust a little icing sugar over the top. Serve as it is or with cream. This cake is best served the same day.

Serves about 12

Note: if. you want to make a smaller cake using a 7 inch (18-20cm) cake pan, use 4 eggs and 200g of icing sugar, spreadable butter and almonds instead of 250g.

Ham and Pea Bruschetta with Mint

A perfect weekend lunch which can be made in a jiffy with ingredients you probably have on hand.

1 cup frozen peas
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 Tbs smooth ricotta or creamy goat’s cheese
A handful of mint leaves
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil + extra to serve
4 slices sourdough bread
150g smoked ham, thinly sliced
50g feta cheese, crumbled (or use goat’s cheese)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place peas and garlic in a small saucepan. Cover with water then simmer for 3 minutes. Drain and place in food processor with the ricotta, about a tablespoonful of mint leaves and 1 Tbs of the oil. Process until almost smooth then season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile heat a chargrill pan over medium-high heat, brush both sides of the bread with olive oil then cook for 2 minutes each side, or until golden and slightly charred.

To serve, place one slice of the toasted bread on each of 4 plates. Top with the pea mixture, some ham, crumbled feta and a few mint leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, drizzle with extra olive oil and serve.

Serves 4

Variations: use smoked trout or smoked salmon instead of ham.

 

Flatbreads with Minted Yoghurt and Roast Vegetables

This recipe is adapted from one by Yotam Ottolenghi. The flatbreads are easy to make, but you could buy some Naan bread or wraps and use those instead. Any leftover flatbreads can be frozen. Just thaw and reheat briefly in a frying pan.

Flatbreads:
400g plain flour (see note below)
½ cup plain yoghurt
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried yeast
180ml warm water
1 tsp sugar
Ghee (or oil and butter) for frying
Oven-Roasted vegetables
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Mint Yoghurt:
2 cups plain yoghurt
2 Tbs chopped mint
1 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbs olive oil
Good pinch of salt

Place flour and salt in food processor and add yoghurt. In a small bowl, mix yeast with warm water and sugar and leave to stand for 10 minutes until frothy. Add to the food processor and process until mixture forms a ball. If it seems too dry to form a ball add a bit more warm water, a tablespoon at a time with the motor running. Once dough has formed into a smooth ball, tip onto a lightly floured surface and form into a sausage shape. Cut into 8 even-sized pieces, then knead and roll each into a ball and place on a tray. Cover with a tea towel and leave for an hour and a half, or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile prepare the oven-roasted vegetables according to the recipe link, seasoning them before roasting with the cumin and paprika, as well as the oil, salt and pepper. Any mix of vegetables will do. You might like to add some tomatoes as in the photo.

Line a sieve with a piece of muslin or similar cloth (I use a man’s cotton handkerchief I keep for this purpose), scrape in the yoghurt and stand over a bowl so the liquid drains out. Leave for an hour or two or overnight in the fridge. Blitz mint, lemon juice, oil and salt in a mini-blender, spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Mix this paste into the strained yoghurt.

At serving time, on a lightly floured surface, roll out each flatbread ball thinly to form a circle about 25cm in diameter. Heat some ghee (or a drizzle of oil and a small piece of butter) in a large non-stick frying pan and cook flatbread on high for about 2 minutes each side. Keep warm in a low oven covered with a tea towel while you cook the rest, adding a little more ghee or oil and butter as required.

Serve flatbread spread with Mint Yoghurt and topped with warm roasted vegetables.

Makes 8 servings

Note: if available use half plain flour and half strong bread flour

Crispy Chicken Tray Bake

A perfect dish to serve at a family gathering. Adjust the quantity of ingredients according to how many people you are serving.

Make a big salad and buy some fresh crusty bread to soak up the juices. A tub of ice cream served with this quick and easy chocolate sauce and Bob’s your Uncle, as they say in the classics. Dinner’s served.

10-16 chicken pieces, bone-in, skin on
½ to 1kg small chat potatoes
1-2 large onions, halved then sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
150-200g rindless bacon, chopped
1-2 Tbs chopped fresh thyme (or 1-2 tsp dried)
½-¾ cup chicken stock
150-200ml cream
1-2 Tbs Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Sprigs of fresh thyme

Trim chicken pieces of excess fat. Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut potatoes in half and arrange over the base of a large shallow baking dish or tin. Spread the onions, garlic and bacon evenly over the potatoes. Sprinkle with the thyme. Arrange chicken pieces over the top, skin side up and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes.

Mix stock, cream and mustard and pour evenly over the chicken. Return to the oven for a further 30-40 minutes or until chicken is cooked and crispy and potatoes are tender.

Serves 8-12