Labneh with Summer Berries

I made this delicious Ottolenghi dessert when we were in Vancouver for my brother’s wedding in August, when the Canadian berry season was in full swing. Friends who saw the photo on Facebook thought it was a pavlova. In fact the base is strained yoghurt, known as labneh in the Middle East. Much healthier.

For subscribers in the southern hemisphere this could become your go-to dessert for the holiday season. For those living in the north, you’ll have to wait until summer or perhaps try using frozen berries. Ottolenghi doesn’t use the orange juice in this recipe, but I’ve made the recipe twice, once with and once without the juice. Much more orangey with.

1 kg thick Greek-style yoghurt
A good pinch of salt
1-2 Tbs icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
100ml Extra Virgin Olive oil
1 orange
A few sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
800g to 1 kg fresh berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, stoned cherries)
1-2 Tbs caster sugar

The day before serving make the labneh and the orange oil. Place a sieve over a bowl and line it with muslin or similar fabric. I use a man’s handkerchief which I keep especially for this purpose. Scrape yoghurt into the sieve, cover and refrigerate overnight. Next day discard the liquid – my dog loves it. Mix icing sugar and vanilla into the yoghurt.

Remove the peel from the orange with a vegetable peeler, then remove the juice and heat it in a saucepan for a few minutes, or until reduced by half. Add the olive oil, the thyme and leave to infuse overnight.

At serving time spread labneh onto a large serving platter. Place about half the berries in a food processor with the caster sugar and pulse a few times to chop roughly. Spoon on top of the labneh. Top with the remaining whole berries, slicing the strawberries if large. Drizzle with some of the orange oil and garnish with the orange zest and some fresh thyme sprigs – the original ones will have gone a bit brown.

Serves 8-10

Variations: use other fruit combinations, such as bananas and passionfruit; kiwi fruit and strawberries

Gnocchi with Prawns and Chorizo

A  simple combination of flavours turns a shop bought packet of gnocchi into something delicious. This recipe was in a free magazine I picked up in Coles supermarket.

 

1 Tbs olive oil
1 chorizo sausage, skinned and chopped coarsely
200g baby tomatoes
500g peeled prawns, raw or cooked, deveined
500g packed chilled potato gnocchi
2 handfuls rocket or baby spinach leaves
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Harissa or Sriracha Chilli Sauce to taste (optional)

In a large non-stick frying pan or wok heat the oil over medium heat. Add the chorizo and cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes, If using raw prawns add them now and cook, tossing, for a further 4-5 mins, or until they change colour.

Meanwhile cook gnocchi in boiling water according to packet directions, then drain. Add to the frying pan. If using cooked prawns add them now with the gnocchi and the tomatoes and stir fry for 1-2 minutes. Add the rocket or spinach, toss well and season to taste. If you like a bit of heat, add some chilli sauce.

Serves 4

Jam Doughnut Muffins

Who doesn’t like doughnuts? The only trouble is you have to cook them in deep hot oil, which puts a lot of people off making them at home.

This recipe combines the flavours of a doughnut in a muffin which is baked in the oven. Quicker and easier than anything deep fried, but they are brushed with melted butter, to help the sugar stick, so I’m not sure about them being healthier! A perfect treat for the kids when they come home from school.

2 cups self-raising flour
2/3 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup (250ml) buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla essence
Red jam (e.g. strawberry, raspberry)
To serve:
125g butter, melted
3/4 cup sugar
2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease a 12 hole muffin pan with one third cup capacity holes. Place flour, sugar, salt, oil, egg, buttermilk and vanilla in food processor and whiz to combine, stopping to scrape down the sides, or use electric beaters. Fill each muffin hole a bit over half full. Place a heaped teaspoon of jam in the middle of each, then divide remaining mixture between the muffins. I made 10 but they could have been a bit smaller to end up with 12.

Bake for 20 mins or until well-risen and golden brown. Cool in the pans for a few minutes, then remove. Mix sugar and cinnamon. While still warm brush each muffin all over with melted butter then roll in the sugar. Best eaten on the day they are made.

Makes 12

Variations: use lemon curd, chocolate chips or Nutella in the middle instead of red jam.

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.

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

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