Asparagus with Caper & Egg Dressing

Asparagus is delicious served hot with melted butter or cold with mayonnaise. This sauce goes a step further, being a Hollandaise sauce with a few extra additions. The sauce also goes well with ham or poached eggs.

4 egg yolks
4 Tbs white wine vinegar
2 Tbs water
1 tsp hot English mustard
1 tsp sugar
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp smoked paprika
2 hard boiled eggs, finely chopped
100ml cream
2 Tbs capers, drained and chopped
2 Tbs finely chopped parsley
5 or 6 asparagus spears per person
Extra parsley leaves and Extra Virgin Olive oil to garnish

Place egg yolks, vinegar, water, mustard, salt and paprika in the top of a double boiler, or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Using electric beaters, whisk the sauce until it doubles in volume. Remove from the heat and fold in the hard boiled eggs, cream, capers and parsley.

Meanwhile, cook the asparagus in shallow boiling water in a frying pan, for 4-5 mins or until al dente. Drain on paper towels.

Serve the sauce warm over the asparagus. Any leftover sauce goes well cold with ham or cold asparagus.

Serves 4-6

 

Sweet and Sour Pork or Chicken

Growing up in the UK, the only foreign food we were exposed to was Chinese, bought as a takeaway for special occasions, or when my mother was too busy to cook. Occasionally we went to a Chinese restaurant to celebrate one of my parents’ birthdays. Sweet and Sour Pork was always one of the dishes we chose.

This Chinese food was not very authentic, but at the time we loved it. In some parts of Britain Chinese restaurants served chips with everything, in order to keep the locals happy. Maybe they still do.

When our kids were growing up they loved the Sweet and Sour Pork I made at home, although they preferred it made with chicken. The recipe works well with either and I make it when I feel like a bit of nostalgic comfort food. The original recipe came from the Australian Women’s Weekly Chinese Cookbook.

500g lean pork or boneless chicken thighs
1 Tbs soy sauce
1 egg yolk
1 Tbs cornflour
1 red capsicum
1 green capsicum
1 medium onion
3 canned pineapple rings
½ cup cornflour, extra
Vegetable oil for frying
2 cloves garlic
Sauce:
3 Tbs vinegar
3 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs tomato ketchup
4 Tbs water
½ tsp salt
2 tsp cornflour

Mix soy sauce, egg yolk and cornflour. Add chicken or pork cut into 2.5cm cubes, cover and leave aside while you prepare the other ingredients. Seed peppers and cut into 2.5cm squares. Peel onion and cut into eighths, then separate into slices, cut pineapple into cubes.

Add extra cornflour to chicken or pork and mix well. Heat about 2.5cm oil in a wok or large frying pan and fry chicken or pork pieces for 4-5 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Drop them into the hot oil one at a time. Remove and drain on paper towels. Pour off oil, leaving about 1 Tbs. Add crushed garlic, peppers and onion and cook over high heat, stirring, for 3 mins. Add chicken or pork, pineapple and the sauce and stir until it thickens and boils. Serve with plain boiled rice.

Serves 4-6

Scandinavian Potato and Salmon Casserole

A couple of years ago we went husky dog sledding for a few days in northern Finland, near the Russian border. We stayed in a timber house by a frozen lake, miles from anywhere.

Each evening, after a few hours of sledding, we dined with the couple who ran the place. This delicious potato and salmon casserole was served one evening and I asked for the recipe. Our hostess explained that there are variations of this dish all over Scandinavia. Everyone makes it the way their mother made it and the only common ingredients are potatoes, salmon and dill. Quantities are flexible and the recipe can easily be adjusted to feed more people, so nobody measures the ingredients. In the frozen north they use a lot of frozen vegetables in winter, although we visited a big supermarket in the closest town, Kajani, which had pretty much everything.

This is a holiday for anyone who likes an adventure. While it was very cold outside, we were well rugged up and cosy in the house at night. Twenty-eight dogs lived outside in kennels, while three lived in the house, because they were elderly or unwell. My favourite, Serek, a handsome black dog with a white ruff, was convalescing from a tummy upset. He wouldn’t come near us when we arrived, but by the time we left he was up on the bed watching us pack our suitcases.

Each morning 28 dogs started howling “Please take me” but we were only able to take fourteen each day. Daylight was from 9.30 am till about 3.30 pm, so we went sledding from about 11 till 2pm. On return we got changed before trudging through the snow for about 50 metres to the sauna hut, where we spent an hour or so in our birthday suits, thawing out and sipping cold beer. Our host said he had made a hole in the ice so we could jump into the lake after the sauna, to cool off. We declined.

Soon after our return home we bought a golden retriever puppy and named him Serek, in the sure knowledge that nobody else in the doggy park would be calling out that name.

About 400g salmon (fresh, tinned, smoked, or a combination)
About 600g potatoes, peeled
2-3 handfuls fresh spinach or use one packet of frozen spinach
1 onion, chopped finely
1 Tbs butter or oil or a bit of each
100g bacon or prosciutto, chopped (optional)
2 Tbs chopped fresh dill (or use parsley or tarragon)
1½ cups grated cheese (cheddar or anything that needs using up)
About 1 cup cream (depends a bit on the weight and variety of the potatoes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

If using fresh salmon, remove skin and any bones and cut into 2cm cubes. Drain canned salmon. Boil potatoes in boiling salted water until cooked, but not overcooked. Cool then slice about 1cm thick. Fry onion in butter or oil until soft but not brown, adding the bacon or prosciutto (if using) after the first minute or two.

Grease a casserole dish then layer up the ingredients, starting with potatoes and ending with potatoes topped with cheese. Season as you go, then drizzle over the cream. While the layers will vary according to the size of your dish I put half the potatoes, then half the salmon and dill, followed by a sprinkling of cheese and fried onion, then seasoning. Then all the spinach (chopped if leaves are large), the rest of the salmon, dill and onion, the remaining potatoes and cheese and lastly the cream.

Bake for 40 minutes at 180°C or until golden brown on top. Serve with a salad or green vegetable.

Serves 4

Variations: 

  • use frozen peas or broad beans instead of spinach
  • add a layer of sliced or quartered hard-boiled eggs
  • use a cup or so of white (Béchamel) sauce instead of cream
  • add a few prawns
  • use ham instead of bacon

Filipino Chicken Curry

This quick and easy curry is not too spicy, making it ideal for a family meal which includes kids.

It reminds me of the simple curries my mother used to make using ready-made curry powder, rather than all the different spices. Serve with steamed rice and chutney.

1 kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs curry powder or paste, or to taste
1 can coconut milk
1 can tomatoes (diced or whole)
1 Tbs sugar

Cut chicken into 2cm chunks and season with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large frying pan and gently fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes until soft but not brown. Add curry powder or paste and the chicken and continue to fry, stirring, for 2-3 minutes or until chicken is starting to colour.

Add coconut milk, tomatoes (chop them if they aren’t already) and sugar. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until chicken is tender and sauce has thickened. If the sauce is getting too thick before the chicken is ready add a small dash of water. Serve with steamed rice and chutney.

Serves 6-8

Harissa Carrots

Since the first of his seven cookbooks hit the shelves in 2008, Yotam Ottolenghi has brought vegetables to a whole new level.

This recipe from his latest book Simple is a real winner.  He sprinkles fresh pomegranate seeds over the carrots just before serving, but I didn’t have any. They’re still delicious just as they are.

Who would think the humble carrot could taste so amazing?

2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp honey
2 Tbs Harissa (or another chilli paste such as Sriracha)*
20g unsalted butter, melted
1 Tbs olive oil
¾ tsp salt
1 kg baby carrots (or regular carrots cut in halves lengthwise)
To serve:
Juice of ½ a lemon
1-2 Tbs chopped coriander leaves
Seeds from 1 pomegranate (optional)

Preheat oven to 200°C. In a large bowl mix the cumin, honey, harissa, butter, oil and salt. Add the carrots, mix well, then spread out in one layer on a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper. Roast for 25-35 minutes, or until cooked al dente and beginning to brown a bit.

To serve, drizzle with the lemon juice and sprinkle with the coriander and pomegranate seeds, if using. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 6-8

* use less chilli paste if you don’t like things hot and/or you’re serving kids

Fiona’s Gluten Free Chocolate Cake

My friend Fiona follows a gluten-free diet. I love the nutty texture of her Gluten Free Chocolate Cake which keeps her sane when she’s studying for law exams.

Today’s recipe is adapted from Fiona’s. I’ve adjusted the quantities slightly, adding less sugar and a bit more chocolate and nuts. I’ve also added a topping of unsweetened cocoa powder, an idea from one of Yotam Ottolenghi’s chocolate cake recipes.

I served the cake as a dessert, with whipped cream and some cumquats I preserved a year ago, but it’s perfectly delicious just as it is, with a cuppa. As a dessert you could also serve it with berries or a ball of coffee ice cream.


250g dark chocolate
250g butter
250g almond meal*
4 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
½ tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt
To serve:
About 2 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
Candied oranges or cumquats or fresh berries
Whipped cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Heat butter in a saucepan and when melted add the chocolate, broken into squares and turn off the heat. As chocolate melts, stir to combine. Mix in egg yolks, then sugar, almond meal, salt and baking powder. In a large bowl whip egg whites with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Scrape in the chocolate mixture, in two lots, gently using a spatula to thoroughly combine.

Scrape mixture into a greased and bottom-lined 22cm round cake tin and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes. Check after 35 minutes. When ready cake will feel firm on top and a skewer inserted in the middle will come out clean. If you have a fan-forced oven you may find the cake is ready in just over half an hour, as mine was. Chocolate cakes are best under-cooked rather than over-cooked.

When cool, remove cake from tin and cover the top with cocoa powder, using a sieve. Serve cake with berries and whipped cream or just as it is.

Serves 12-16

* buy almond meal or make your own by blitzing nuts in food processor until they resemble breadcrumbs. I used half bought and half I made using unskinned almonds. If you don’t have any almonds substitute walnuts, pecans, pine nuts or even a mixture.

Salted Caramel Slice

This recipe is adapted from one by David Lebovitz. One of those sweet, sinful snacks you have to hide, to avoid overindulgence. Trouble is, I know the hiding place.

When a friend emailed to ask for the recipe I wrote back asking if she also wanted contact details for Weight Watchers. She thought I was suggesting she was fat so I said she would be if she ate too much of this. It’s something you might describe as moreish, a word which I see has made it into the English dictionary and which has nothing whatsoever to do with Moorish, used to describe things with an Arabian flavour.

About 6 sheets Salada crackers (called Saltine in other countries)
250g unsalted butter
1 cup brown sugar
Large pinch of salt
½ tsp vanilla essence
250g dark chocolate
1 small piece of Copha (vegetable shortening) the size of a large walnut
1 cup flaked almonds (optional)
Salt flakes

Line a shallow baking sheet approximately 28x42cm with baking paper. Or use two smaller tins which come to about the same total area. Cover with the crackers, breaking them as necessary to cover the whole area like a jigsaw puzzle.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Melt butter and sugar in a saucepan, then boil for 3 minutes, stirring all the time. Add salt and vanilla then pour over the crackers, spreading evenly. Bake for 15 minutes, watching carefully that it doesn’t burn.

Melt chocolate and Copha in a bowl over boiling water, then spread evenly over the caramel. If using nuts, toast them lightly in a dry frying pan over moderate heat then sprinkle over the chocolate. Sprinkle with a few salt flakes. Cool.

To serve, break into uneven sized pieces
Variations: use milk chocolate or a mix of half milk and half dark

 

Fried Halloumi with Lemon and Olives

I first ate halloumi cheese at my brother’s house when he was living in the UK in the 1980s. He cooked it on a barbecue and the kids decided to call it squeaky cheese, because of the noise it makes against your teeth when you eat it.

This recipe makes a good side dish for lunch or nibbles with drinks.

2-3 Tbs olive oil
250g halloumi cheese
2 Tbs flour mixed with some salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon
½ cup olives, stoned and sliced (green or black)
1 Tbs chopped fresh marjoram, oregano or parsley
1 birdseye chilli, seeded and finely chopped
Extra olive oil

Slice cheese a bit more than half a centimetre thick and cut into manageable sized pieces. Dust with seasoned flour. Heat olive oil in a frying pan and cook the cheese slices on both sides until golden. Drain on paper. While cheese is cooking remove peel from the lemon with a vegetable peeler then chop finely. Remove juice from the lemon.

When cooked, place halloumi in a small serving dish. Mix lemon juice and rind, olives and herbs and sprinkle over. Top with the chilli, if using. Drizzle with extra olive oil and serve as a snack or part of a mezze with fresh bread.

Proper Baked Beans

First produced in 1901, Heinz Baked Beans have maintained their popularity for well over a century. One of the best known advertising slogans launched in the UK in 1967 was Beanz Meanz Heinz.

I’ve never been a fan, but have several friends who eat them when they need some comfort food.

Proper Baked Beans, made from scratch by soaking dried beans, now that’s a different story. I think they’re quite delicious. In this recipe the beans aren’t actually baked, although you could always cook them in the oven rather than on the stove top, if preferred. In fact Heinz Baked Beans, despite the name, aren’t baked either. Raw beans are placed in the cans with the sauce, then sealed and cooked in very large pressure cookers.

500g dried white beans (eg haricot blanc, white kidney beans)*
2 Tbs canola or olive oil
250g smoked streaky bacon, chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 x 400g cans tomatoes, chopped
500ml water
2 Tbs tomato paste
100g brown sugar (or less if preferred)
200ml vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Hot buttered toast
Chopped fresh herbs
Grated Parmesan (optional)

Cover beans with cold water and leave to soak overnight. Drain and rinse thoroughly then place in a large saucepan, cover with water and simmer for an hour, or until cooked. Beans vary and could take up to two hours. Add more water as necessary. Drain.

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan heat the oil. Add the bacon, onions and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring often, until onions are soft and bacon is starting to brown. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, vinegar and water. Bring to the boil then add the cooked beans. Reduce to low and simmer for an hour and a half, or until you have a thick sauce and very tender beans. Add a dash more water from time to time if necessary.

Check seasoning and serve on toasted and buttered Turkish or Sourdough bread, garnished with chopped herbs and a little grated Parmesan, if liked.

Serves 8

*If preferred, substitute 3-4 cans of drained canned beans and skip the first paragraph of the recipe.

Lancashire Hot Pot

Lancashire Hot Pot originated in the north west of England and was a popular winter dinner throughout the British Isles when I was growing up. My mother, who didn’t have a large culinary repertoire, made it regularly and we loved it.

It’s basically a lamb stew covered with sliced potatoes, cooked until crisp. In the old days it would have been made with mutton, something we don’t see in the shops these days because the animals are killed much younger. My mother fried the onions and meat in dripping or lard, but I prefer to use butter or canola oil, or a combination.

2 Tbs butter or oil or 1Tbs of each
1 kg stewing lamb, cut into 2cm cubes
2 Tbs plain flour
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 large or 2 smaller onions, diced
500g carrots, peeled and cut into slices or chunks
2 cups beef stock (or water and 2 beef stock cubes)
3 Tbs sherry or red wine (optional)
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
750g potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
1 Tbs melted butter or oil, for brushing
1 tsp dried thyme

Preheat oven to 170°C. Mix lamb with the flour, salt and pepper. Heat butter or oil in a large frying pan and cook the meat over high heat, stirring, until browned. Place in a casserole dish. Add onions to the frying pan and cook, stirring from time to time, until softened. Add to the casserole with the carrots, stock, sherry and Worcestershire sauce. Mix well. Cover and cook for 30-60 minutes, or until meat is almost tender.

Remove lid and cover the meat with the sliced potatoes, starting from the outside and overlapping them slightly. Brush with melted butter or oil, sprinkle with thyme then cover with the lid or a piece of foil. Return to the oven for 45 minutes  or until potatoes are tender. Turn oven up to 200°C. Remove lid or foil and cook casserole until potatoes are browned and crisp. Serve with a green vegetable.

Serves 6