Rhubarb Tart

Rhubarb grows like a weed at our farm so I’m always looking for new ways to cook it and I give away what we can’t eat.

This recipe can be adapted to use other fruit and is perfect to serve with a cuppa or as a dessert. I used wholemeal flour in the pastry, because I had some which needed using. Anything that hangs around in our pantry for too long is an attractive target for pantry moths. They especially love flour, nuts and, as I discovered recently, dried chillies!

1 shortcrust pastry case
800g rhubarb, washed and cut into 3cm lengths
¾ cup raw sugar, or to taste
125g butter, at room temperature
125g (½ cup) caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or 1 tsp almond essence
Finely grated rind 1 orange
1 cup almond meal
3 eggs
To serve:
Icing sugar
Vanilla ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt

Go to the link for the pastry. Bake the pastry case as instructed, with foil and something heavy like dried beans or corn, to stop it rising. Remove foil and beans and bake for a further 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Leave the oven on 180°C.

Meanwhile, cook rhubarb in a saucepan with the raw sugar for 10 minutes, or until tender but mostly still whole. Stir often so it doesn’t stick or burn. Cool then spread into the pastry case.

If you used a food processor to make the pastry there’s no need to wash it out before you make the filling. Place butter, sugar, vanilla, orange rind, eggs and almond meal in food processor and process until smooth, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Spread evenly over the rhubarb. Bake for 40 mins or until well-risen, golden brown and firm to the touch.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm or cold with ice cream, whipped cream or Greek yoghurt.

Serves 8

Variations: use ground walnuts or pine nuts instead of the almond meal. Use cooked apples or pears, tinned pears or peaches, or a punnet of berries mixed with a cup of jam instead of the cooked rhubarb. You could also use frozen berries.

Vegetarian Paella

I was inspired to have a go at making this delicious Vegetarian Paella after lunching with friends at Muse Cafe, located at the East Hotel in Canberra. When you’ve eaten something in a restaurant, but don’t actually have the recipe, you have to use a certain amount of guesswork, but the end result was delicious.

Muse calls this dish Calasparra Paella – calasparra being a variety of rice especially suited to making paella. It’s not sold in any of my local supermarkets, but if you look online you can find a couple of specialty grocers who sell it.

Arborio rice is a good substitute, but you need to use less liquid and stir it less, so it doesn’t go creamy and start to break down. Calasparra needs three times the volume of liquid to rice, whereas Arborio only needs about twice the volume.

As you can see in this photo, I roasted the tomatoes with the other vegetables. They ended up a bit overcooked, which is why I have amended the recipe to add them halfway through the cooking time. I also roasted the beans and asparagus with the other vegetables, which unfortunately meant they lost their vibrant green colour. So again I have amended the recipe to cook the green veggies in water rather than in the oven. Either way works, it’s just about the colour.

1½ cups Arborio rice (or Calasparra)
3 cups vegetable stock (4½ cups if using Calasparra)
2-3 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of saffron threads or powder
Knob of butter (optional)
About 12 cherry tomatoes
About 6-8 asparagus spears
About 12 green beans
1 onion
1 small red capsicum
1 small sweet potato
Pinch of chilli flakes (optional)
To serve:
2 avocados cut into cubes
Micro herbs or any small fresh leaves (basil, marjoram etc)
4 Lime wedges
Extra Virgin Olive oil

Heat half the olive oil in a heavy-based large saucepan, add the rice and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Gradually add the stock, letting it be absorbed before adding more. Stir from time to time, but not too often or too vigorously. You may need slightly more or less stock as rice varies. When al dente add the saffron, chilli flakes and salt and pepper to taste. If liked, add a knob of butter, then cover and keep warm.

Meanwhile roast the vegetables. Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut the onion, sweet potato and capsicum into 1-1.5cm squares and place in a bowl with the rest of the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Mix well then spread out on a shallow oven tray lined with baking paper. Bake for about half an hour, or until cooked. Halfway through cooking time give them a stir around and add the tomatoes. Meanwhile cut the asparagus and beans into 1.5cm lengths and cook in boiling salted water for 3-4 minutes then drain and refresh under cold water.

Mix all the vegetables into rice and arrange on 4 serving plates, using a large stacking ring if you have one. Garnish with avocado, herbs, olive oil and lime wedges.

Serves 4

Note: I made a large main course sized stacking ring by cutting the top and bottom off a large can of tuna with a can opener. Place in the middle a dinner plate. Fill with the paella and press down the top, garnish with avocado and herbs, then lift off carefully and serve.

Variations: use eggplant, zucchini or peas instead of one of the vegetables.

Roast Potatoes with Harissa and Garlic

Yotam Ottolenghi is one of my favourite chefs and this is another of his scrumptious recipes. These spicy potatoes roasted in duck fat with confit garlic have an unbelievable crunch, achieved by adding semolina. The best roast potatoes I’ve ever eaten.

Use Harissa, Sambal Oelek or any chilli paste you have and adjust the amount, according to how spicy you like things. If preferred, use olive oil instead of duck fat.

Don’t be tempted to halve the recipe, they’re too good.

2 large heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
130g duck fat
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
6 sprigs fresh thyme
2kg roasting potatoes, peeled and cut into 5cm chunks
40g ground semolina
2 tsp caraway seeds, toasted and lightly crushed (I used cumin seeds)
1-2 Tbs Harissa (Sambal Oelek or another chilli paste)
2 tsp Maldon sea salt

Preheat oven to 150°C. Put garlic, duck fat and herbs in a small ovenproof casserole with a lid. Cover and roast for 40 minutes, until garlic is caramelised and soft. Remove from the oven and strain fat into a large heatproof bowl. Put garlic and herbs aside.

Increase oven temperature to 200°C Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, add potatoes and parboil for 10 minutes, until half-cooked. Drain into a colander, shaking the potatoes to fluff up the edges, then leave to dry for 10 minutes.

Mix potatoes, semolina, caraway or cumin seeds, harissa and two teaspoons of Maldon salt into the bowl of reserved fat, then spread out on a large oven tray. Roast for 45 minutes, turning once or twice, until golden-brown, then stir in the confit garlic and herbs and roast for 10-15 minutes more, until potatoes are dark golden-brown and crisp. Serve hot, sprinkled with some extra salt.

Serves 6-8

The Tomato Chutney Dowry

My father left the Royal Air Force after the War, to help his father run the family nursery, which he eventually took over. To earn pocket money I worked on Saturday mornings in the shop where we sold all the produce. Grandpa sat in the corner and appeared to be dozing. In fact he was watching me like a hawk. The tomatoes were weighed to order and the adding up was done in your head – quite a challenge for an 11 year old. “You put one too many in that last pound of tomatoes. If you do that every time, you’ll put us out of business,” Grandpa would say.

Dad’s mother Jessie, who was from Falkirk, just outside Edinburgh, was an excellent cook. Grandpa met her when he was in charge of the gardens at Battle Abbey in Sussex and she was running the dairy. I often wonder how a young Scottish lass ended up working nearly 500 miles away from home, but by the time I wanted to ask she had been dead for many years.

My mother grew up in Malta where her father was stationed during the War with the Royal Engineers. Strict rationing meant she was never allowed to cook, in case she ruined precious ingredients. Before they married Dad asked his future bride if she could cook. She said no and he thought she was being modest. She couldn’t boil an egg.

From working in the dairy of Battle Abbey my maternal grandmother had learned many skills, including how to make butter into swans for afternoon tea. In the early years of marriage, my mother grew sick of hearing my father waxing lyrical about the swans. “If you want swans made of butter you’d better go back,” she would say, teasingly. Fortunately, Nana took Mum under her wing and taught her to make a few basic recipes, so we wouldn’t starve. Not the swans, but more practical things.

Once a year Dad would bring in a couple of boxes of  ripe tomatoes from the nursery and the whole family helped turn them into tomato chutney, using an old family recipe.

Matthew and I met in Geneva when he was working for the Australian Mission to the UN and I was working for the British FCO. He had recently broken up with a long time girlfriend and I was also footloose and fancy free when a mutual friend invited us to a tramps and tarts party. The rest, as they say, is history.

Not long afterwards we rented a ski chalet in La Clusaz for a week with a group of friends. It was self-catering so everyone brought some food. Unpacking my box of contributions, Matthew came across a jar of tomato chutney. Despite living in a tiny bed-sit with only two hotplates I still made a few jars each year as I consider it a staple. “What’s this?” he asked, so I told him. Before you could say Jack Robinson he had unscrewed the lid, eaten a spoonful and hidden the jar in one of the top cupboards. “Too good for that lot,” he said “they’ll polish it off in one go.”

Matthew and I met in October and married the following May. He always says he married me for my tomato chutney, amongst other things. Needless to say, running out of tomato chutney is grounds for divorce in our house.

Over the years I’ve only made two slight adjustments to this very old recipe. I use cider vinegar instead of dark malt vinegar and have cut down a bit on the sugar and salt. It’s crucial to use vine-ripened, very red, tasty tomatoes. The hard, orange, tasteless ones you buy in supermarkets in winter will produce a very mediocre chutney.

Tomato chutney goes well with cheese, ham and other cold meats.

Tomato chutney with cheddar cheese on crusty sourdough bread

Tomato Chutney

3 kg ripe tomatoes
1 kg peeled green apples (see note below)
500g peeled onions
500g seedless raisins
750g dark brown sugar
4 tsp salt
600 ml cider vinegar
2 rounded Tbs pickling spices (see recipe below)
4 Tbs whole yellow mustard seeds

You will need a large preserving pan with a heavy base for this recipe. Mine is stainless steel and has a diameter of 33cm and a height of 15cm. It holds about 7 litres. Alternatively make half the recipe in a large heavy-based saucepan.

Pour boiling water over tomatoes and leave for a couple of minutes, then remove skins and chop. Core and chop the apples and chop the onions. Place pickling spices in a muslin bag or tie them in an old cotton handkerchief. Place all ingredients except mustard seeds in preserving pan.

Cook for about an hour at a steady boil, until thick. Stir regularly to prevent sticking, especially towards the end. Meanwhile place sufficient clean jars (without their lids) in the oven set to 120°C. Or you can zap them in the microwave on High for 2 minutes. How many jars you use will depend on the size of the jars.

When chutney is cooked remove pickling spices, squeezing the bag so any juices go back into the chutney, then discard the spices. Stir in mustard seeds and pour into the hot sterilized jars using a small jug. Poke a knife down right to the bottom of each jar, all the way around the edge, to remove any air bubbles. Seal jars with the lids and store in a dark cupboard. Keeps for at least 12 months.

Note: Apples which go mushy when cooked, such as English Bramleys, are best, but they are hard to find in Australia. We’ve planted a tree and should get our first crop in a year or two. Alternatively use Granny Smiths, although the apples will stay in pieces when cooked. Sultanas can be used instead of raisins, but they are not quite as nice.

Makes 6-8 standard jam jars

Pickling Spices

1 tsp whole cloves (1 Tbs)
2 Tbs broken up cinnamon sticks (8 Tbs)
2 Tbs dried bay leaves, broken up (8 Tbs)
1 Tbs whole black peppercorns (4 Tbs)
2 tsp crushed dried birds-eye chillies (2 Tbs)
2 Tbs whole pimento (allspice) (8 Tbs)
2 tsp fennel seeds (2 Tbs)

Mix and keep in a jar. If the cinnamon sticks are very hard you may need to hit them with a meat mallet to break them up. I usually make 4 times the recipe at a time for which quantities are in brackets. Pimento (also known as Allspice) look like very large black peppercorns.

Mid-week Pork Stir-Fry

Try this delicious mid-week stir fry. Easy peasy and adaptable. I forgot to put the chilli on top for the photo. Leave it out for kids or anyone who doesn’t like things spicy. I’ve made this once a week for the past month and each time varied the recipe a bit. It’s always good. If preferred, leave out the noodles and serve with steamed rice.

 

600g pork, thinly sliced
2 Tbs brown sugar
1½ Tbs soy sauce
½ tsp Chinese five spice
2 tsp fish sauce
200g dried Asian noodles (e.g. rice noodles)
2 Tbs oil
1 red or white onion cut into eighths
1 Tbs grated ginger
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red capsicum, thinly sliced
1 carrot, halved and sliced
200g snow peas, trimmed
¼ cup chicken or vegetable stock
¼ cup oyster sauce
¼ cup roasted cashews or peanuts or a mixture
1 small red chilli, seeded and thinly sliced (optional)

Combine pork, sugar, soy sauce, five spice and fish sauce in a bowl. Cook noodles according to packet instructions and drain well. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a wok or large frying pan and stir-fry the pork over high heat in two batches for 1-2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add remaining 1 Tbs oil to the wok and over high heat stir-fry the onion, ginger, garlic, capsicum and carrot for 5 minutes. Add pork, snow peas, stock, oyster sauce and stir fry for 2-3 minutes. Mix in the noodles and a dash of water if it’s a bit dry. Serve garnished with the nuts and the chilli.

Substitutions:
– beef or chicken thighs instead of pork
– broccoli florets, green beans, spinach, asparagus or bok choy instead of snow peas

Caramelised Chicken Kebabs

 

If you like sticky Asian chicken dishes you’ll like this one. I used less than half the amount of sugar in the original recipe (which I thought was a bit over the top) and it worked well.

1.2 kg skinless, boneless chicken thighs
2 Tbs Asian fish sauce
1 Tbs brown sugar
1 Tbs lemon juice
Glaze:
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tbs Asian fish sauce
3 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs rice vinegar
1 Tbs honey
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
To serve:
2 Tbs white sesame seeds
2 Tbs black sesame seeds
2 Tbs flaked almonds
Thinly sliced spring onions, or chives
or chopped parsley

Cut chicken into 2.5cm (1 inch) chunks. Mix with the fish sauce, brown sugar and lemon juice and marinate for an hour or two.

Place all ingredients for the glaze in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then simmer for a few minutes to thicken.

Thread chicken onto 8 bamboo skewers which have been soaked in cold water. Cook on a grill or BBQ for about 8 minutes, brushing regularly with the glaze, or until cooked through. Cook for about 2 minutes on each of the four sides.

Place sesame seeds and almonds in a dry frying pan and stir over moderate heat for a few minutes or until golden.

When kebabs are cooked place on serving dish and brush again with the glaze. Sprinkle with the sesame seed mixture and the spring onions or herbs. Serve with steamed rice and a cucumber and onion salad.

Serves 4

Portuguese Tarts

Portuguese tarts are famous around the world. Creamy custard filling, encased in flaky pastry then cooked in a hot oven until they start to blister on top. They’re best eaten freshly made, but if there are any left over pop them into a moderate oven for a few minutes to crisp up the pastry again.

1 large egg
2 large egg yolks
½ cup sugar
2 Tbs cornflour
200 ml milk
200 ml cream
1 tsp vanilla essence
About 350g bought puff pastry (or make your own)

In a large saucepan use a balloon whisk to combine all ingredients except the pastry. Bring mixture to the boil, whisking all the time, until thickened. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled.

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Grease 12 x 1/3 cup muffin pans. Roll out pastry and cut circles to fit the pans. Divide filling between the pastry cases – I managed to get 11 rather than 12. Bake for 20 minutes or until custard starts to brown. If you are able to switch your oven from Bake to Grill, or even better Fan Grill, for the last few minutes it will be easier to brown the tops of the tarts the way they do in Portugal, so they are a bit blackened.

Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes about 12

Smoked Haddock Chowder

Inspired by a recent trip to the West of Scotland I decided to make my version of a soup they call Cullen Skink. Doesn’t sound very appetising does it? Well Cullen Skink is the Scottish name for Smoked Haddock Chowder, a chunky, hearty soup made from smoked haddock, known locally as Finnan Haddie and it’s delicious, despite the name! I read through half a dozen different recipes online and came up with this.

If you can’t find smoked haddock, use smoked cod and if you can’t find either why not experiment with hot smoked salmon? It will only need to be gently heated through as it’s already cooked.

50g butter
2 leeks, chopped (use mostly the white part and a tiny bit of green)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunky cubes
Vegetable stock
1 cup cream
500g smoked haddock or cod, skinned and cut into 2 cm chunks
3 Tbs dry sherry (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Chopped parsley
Crusty bread

In a large heavy-based pan melt butter and cook leeks gently for 10 minutes or until soft. Add potatoes and enough stock to just cover them. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add cream, fish and sherry and cook for a few minutes until the fish is done. Test by taking a piece out. You don’t want the fish to disintegrate and it won’t take long to cook. Season with salt and pepper and add a dash more stock or cream if the soup is too thick.

Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4-6

Chicken with Dates

My friend Ferne passed on an idea for a quick canapé to serve with drinks – dates with blue cheese and sesame seeds. Cut through one side of each date, remove the stone, fill with some blue cheese and sprinkle with the seeds. I used a creamy blue cheese from Aldi which comes in a half moon shaped pack and black sesame seeds rather than white. They were delicious and the leftover dates went into the chicken dish below.

 

2 Tbs oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 kg chicken thighs (skinless and boneless)|
1 can tomatoes (chopped if not already)
1 cup water
3 Tbs sherry
1 chicken stock cube
2 tsp cumin
1 cup dates, stoned and halved or quartered
To serve:
Rice, couscous or mashed potatoes
Chopped fresh parsley or coriander

Heat oil in a large deep frying pan and cook onion and garlic gently, until soft. Cut chicken into chunks, discrding any fatty bits. Add chicken to pan and continue to fry, stirring, until chicken has browned all over. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for  10-15 mins, or until chicken is tender, adding a little more water if necessary.

Serve with rice, couscous or mashed potatoes, garnished with the chopped herbs.

Serves 6

Variation: if preferred use about 1.2kg of whole chicken thighs with bone in and skin on or off.

Rocket Salad with Sweet Potato, Parmesan & Pine Nuts

Whenever we go to our daughter’s in Newcastle we eat lots of rocket. It grows there like a weed. I much prefer the larger flat leafed rocket you can grow to the skinny wild rocket sold in supermarkets.

This salad is delicious with or without the sweet potato.

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 tsp olive oil
Salt
A big bowl full of rocket leaves, washed and spun dry
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
Dressing:
½ cup Extra Virgin olive oil
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix sweet potato chunks with the oil and a little salt, then spread out on a shallow baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until starting to brown. Make dressing by shaking all ingredients in a jar with a lid.

Place rocket, sweet potato, pine nuts and parmesan in a large salad bowl. Add some dressing and mix thoroughly to coat.

Serves 4

Variations: use pumpkin instead of sweet potato. Use goat’s cheese or feta cheese instead of grated parmesan.