Polenta Muffins with Smoked Salmon

When we were living in Paris our daughter Catherine was studying for an Arts-Law degree at the Australian National University in Canberra. She rang one day and said “Hey Mum, I’ve been thinking, when again am I going to have the chance to learn French with free accommodation in Paris?” Always a good negotiator it seems she had it all worked out. Within a month Catherine joined us in our apartment on the 8th floor of the Embassy building in the 15th arrondissement, having arranged to take a semester off uni.

A few days later the Ambassador’s butler Thierry rang. He had heard our daughter was in Paris and wondered if she would like to work at a cocktail party. We found a suitable black skirt and a white blouse and off she went to their apartment on the top floor of the building adjacent to ours.

Matthew and I were attending the party and when we arrived Catherine was busy handing out canapés to the guests. Having worked in several Canberra establishments, including Tilleys in Lyneham, she looked quite at ease. We were chatting in a small group, which included the Ambassador, when Catherine came past again with some delicious hot canapés. As Matthew reached out to take one she whipped the tray away, adding in a stern voice “You’ve had two already!”

The Ambassador was mortified and apologised profusely to Matthew. He said he had never seen this waitress before and she would never be hired again. When we explained who she was we all had a good laugh. The reason she was keeping a close eye on what we ate was because we had been on a diet for a week in an attempt to lose a couple of kilos. Daughters take their duties very seriously.

After a three week intensive course at the Alliance Française Catherine landed a job in a restaurant called Ze Kitchen Gallerie in the Latin quarter. I thought they would give her an easy job filling water glasses and bread baskets, but she was thrown in at the deep end with ten tables to serve each night. She survived and lived to tell the tale – in French!

If you need something quick to make when friends pop round for a drink, these savoury muffins take no time at all and are delicious filled with smoked salmon or gravlax. Best eaten the day they are made.

Polenta Muffins with Smoked Salmon

1 cup self-raising flour, sifted
½ tsp baking powder
½ cup polenta
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs sugar
1 egg
1 Tbs olive oil
¾ cup milk
To serve:
250g cream cheese at room temperature
1 Tbs lemon juice or lime juice
2 Tbs snipped chives or chopped dill
6-9 slices smoked salmon or gravlax
Pickled cucumber with red onion (see below)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix all ingredients for muffins and use to fill mini-muffin trays. I used silicone ones which don’t need greasing. Amount per muffin will depend on the size of the trays. Mine hold about a heaped teaspoon of batter. Bake for 10-15 mins or until golden. Cool.

Mix cream cheese with snipped chives or dill and lemon juice. Cut muffins in half and spread about half a teaspoon of cream cheese on the bottom half, then a small piece of smoked salmon or gravlax and some pickled cucumber and onion, drained and patted dry with paper towel. Spread a little more cream cheese on the lids and stick back onto the muffins.  If preferred leave out the pickled cucumber and onion altogether, or substitute a slice of commercial gherkin or a couple of capers. Arrange on a serving tray and garnish with a few more herbs. Best eaten fresh on the day they are made.

Makes about 30

Pickled Cucumber and Onion
Thinly slice one or two Lebanese cucumbers or half a Telegraph cucumber and layer in a jar with a small, thinly sliced red or white onion. Add enough vinegar and water to cover – about half of each – about a tablespoon of sugar and half to one teaspoon of salt. Shake then marinate for several hours before using. Keeps in the fridge for up to a week.

Chilean Empanadas de Pino

We lived in Santiago from 1992 to 1995 and our daughter has since married a Chilean doctor, so Chile is like a second home for us. Lots of fantastic amigos live there, as well as our “consuegros” – our daughter’s in-laws. Spanish has a name for that relationship which is lacking in English. We love the people and the country. The pisco sours and the empanadas. The wines and the seafood. And so much more…

They mostly eat two kinds of empanadas in Chile – cheese ones which are deep fried and meat ones which are baked. The baked ones are called empanadas de pino and are quite big – like a Cornish pasty or an Aussie meat pie. Most Chileans buy their empanadas because they sell them everywhere. Despite the fact that around 35,000 Chileans now live in Australia I’ve never seen them for sale here, so I make my own.

I like to make the pastry and the filling the day before. Assembling the empanadas takes a good hour and the filling is much easier to work with when it’s cold.

Traditional Chilean empanada pastry contains lard and hot water and you have to knead it like bread dough. It can be quite tough and I prefer something lighter. You can speed things up by using bought pastry – either shortcrust or puff pastry will do – and make them any size you like. I prefer what I would call large “finger food” size. The filling is like a spaghetti bolognese sauce without the tomatoes and with the addition of raisins, olives and hard boiled eggs – the three ingredients which give Chilean empanadas their distinctive flavour. If you can’t be bothered making the pastry bought puff pastry works very well.

Pastry:
500g Plain flour
250g butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup sour cream
About 4-5 Tbs cold water
1 tsp salt
Filling:
2 large or 3 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs olive oil
500g good quality minced beef
2 Tbs tomato paste
4 tsp oregano leaves
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp chilli powder – or more, to taste
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt, or to taste
¼ cup
sherry or red wine

½ cup seedless raisins
1 cup water
About 36 black olives, preferably stoned
5 hard boiled eggs, cut into 8
1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbs water

Filling: heat oil in a large pan and cook the onions and garlic gently until soft. Add meat and cook, stirring, until browned all over. All remaining ingredients except for the olives and eggs and simmer for about 15-20 mins or until thick. Cool throughly, preferably overnight.

Pastry: if your food processor is not very big you may need to make this in two batches. Place flour, salt and butter in food processor and process until fine crumbs. Add sour cream and with the motor running add water through the feed chute. As soon as mixture forms a ball stop the motor and tip out. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least an hour.

Preheat oven to 170°C. On a floured surface roll out half the pastry quite thinly, as you would for a quiche. Cut as many circles 10 cm (4″) in diameter as you can, then repeat with the other half of the pastry. Gather the trimmings into a ball, roll out and cut more circles. You should get about 30 and if not you should have rolled the pastry out thinner. If filling seems very thick add a tablespoon or so of water. Place about a tablespoon or so of filling on each pastry circle, plus one olive and an eighth of a hard boiled egg. If you make larger empanadas, use a quarter of an egg for each. and maybe 2 olives. You will probably have some meat filling leftover. It’s nice for lunch on toast.

Dampen pastry edges very slightly on one side, fold over, seal with fingers then crimp with a fork. Make sure you seal them well so they don’t burst open in the oven. Place on baking trays lined with baking paper, brush with beaten egg mixture and bake for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm. Can be made ahead and kept in the fridge or freezer then briefly reheated to serve. If doing that then don’t brown them too much in the first cooking.

Makes about 30

A Birthday Dinner

A family birthday is a good excuse to cook up a storm and open a few bottles of good wine.  Last weekend was one such occasion, so I worked out a menu which included some of the birthday boy’s favourite foods.

Instead of a starter I made 4 different finger foods from Drinks and Nibbles, a Marie Claire book by Michele Cranston, served with Chile’s delicious national cocktail Pisco Sour, which we’re all rather partial to after a four year posting to Santiago.  The grilled prawns were definitely the hot favourite, followed by the seared tuna, then the ceviche and lastly the watermelon and feta squares. But they were all good.

For the main we had rack of lamb with herb and caper crust, served with thyme infused carrots and minted peas – all recipes from this month’s Delicious magazine.  Individual potato soufflés, inspired by a meal we enjoyed at the Artisan restaurant recently, completed the plate.  I had to invent the recipe, but they turned out well.  As you can see in the photo, the plating of the main course left something to be desired – a result of too many cooks in the kitchen, all trying to get the various ingredients onto the plates and onto the table before they went cold!  D’Argenberg’s Footbolt Shiraz was a good choice to go with the lamb.

For dessert we had a tasting plate of three small desserts –  all faves of the birthday boy – chocolate ganache with pink peppercorns, white chocolate mousse with raspberry coulis and a salted caramel tartlet.

Here are the recipes, tweaked and adjusted a bit as usual.  I have changed the cooking method for the carrots, because they ended up more or less steamed rather than glazed as I would have liked them.  This method will achieve that.

Prawns with Coriander and Lime

2 Tbs coriander stalks
2 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 lemongrass stem, white part only, roughly chopped
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tsp ground coriander
20 large raw prawns, peeled and deveined (or 40 smaller ones)
½ cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped
¼ cup lime juice
¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp sugar
A pinch of salt
20 small wooden skewers, soaked in hot water for 20 mins

Thread prawns onto skewers – using one prawn per skewer if large and two if smaller, then place in one layer in a shallow dish. Place coriander root, ginger, garlic, lemongrass, vegetable oil and ground coriander in food processor and blend to a paste, then pour over the prawns, turning them to coat.  Leave to marinate, covered, in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

Place chopped coriander leaves, lime juice, olive oil, sugar and salt in a jar with a lid.  Shake to combine then put aside. Grill prawns on a moderately hot BBQ or grill for 2-3 minutes each side.  Place on serving dish and drizzle with the coriander dressing.

Makes 20

Seared Tuna with Lime Leaf and Peanuts

2 Tbs tamarind water
1 Tbs palm sugar, chopped small or substitute brown sugar
⅓ cup lime juice
1 Tbs grated ginger
1 Tbs fish sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 Tbs finely chopped kaffir lime leaves
1 Tbs chopped lemongrass, white part only
300g tuna fillet, cut into logs about 2cm thick and wide
3 Lebanese cucumbers
½ cup coriander leaves
½ cup toasted and chopped peanuts

Place tamarind water, palm sugar, lime juice, ginger, fish sauce, sesame oil, chilli, kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass in a jar with a lid.  Shake then put aside.  Peel and slice cucumbers and cut into 1cm rounds.

Heat a lightly greased frying pan over high heat and sear the tuna fillets for 1 minute each side.  Remove from  heat, season with a little salt, then cut into pieces about the same size as the cucumber rounds.  Add coriander and peanuts to the dressing in the jar, shake then spoon some onto each square of tuna, then place onto a cucumber round and arrange on serving tray.  If you put the tuna on the cucumber first, then the dressing, it tends to go everywhere.

Makes 30

Ceviche with Coconut Dressing

500g firm white fish fillets (e.g. Hoki, Barramundi)
juice of 3 limes
100ml coconut cream
2 tsp grated ginger
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp sugar
1 Tbs finely chopped coriander root/stalk
½ tsp salt
2 spring onions, finely sliced on the diagonal

Cut fish into bite-sized cubes and place in a glass or ceramic dish.  Cover with lime juice and refrigerate 2 hours.  Mix coconut cream, ginger, turmeric, sugar, coriander root and salt.  Drain fish, discarding lime juice and mix into coconut dressing.  To serve, place a cube of fish onto each Chinese spoon and garnish with the spring onion.

Makes about 40

Watermelon and Feta Squares

½ large seedless watermelon
100g creamy feta cheese
1 tsp sumac
6 pitted black olives, finely sliced
1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs very finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tsp finely chopped thyme leaves

Cut watermelon into bite-sized cubes.  The recipe said 3cm but this was a bit too big to eat in one mouthful – 2cm cubes are a better size.  Cut feta into 1cm cubes. Mix sumac, olives, olive oil, parsley and thyme.  Place a small amount on a feta cube, then place the feta cube on a watermelon cube and arrange on serving plate.  Repeat with the rest of the cubes and serve immediately.

Variations: use green olives instead of black; use basil or mint instead of thyme

Makes about 25

Roxana’s Pisco Sour

½ bottle Pisco (about 375ml)
6 ice cubes
2 Tbs icing sugar, or to taste
½ cup lemon or lime juice, or a mixture
½ an egg white

Place pisco, ice and sugar in blender and blend for 2 minutes. Add lemon juice, mix for 2 minutes, then add egg white and continue to mix until sugar has completely dissolved. Pour into 6-8 cocktail or champagne glasses and if liked place a few drops of Angostura bitters on top of each.  Serve immediately.

Serves 6-8

Lamb Rack with Caper and Herb Crust and Rhubarb Compote

Olive oil
2 French-trimmed 8-cutlet lamb racks (see note below)
8-12 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
Rhubarb compote (see below)
Caper & Herb crust:
2 Tbs salted capers, rinsed and drained
4 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
½ cup flat leaf parsley leaves
½ cup mint leaves
8 cloves garlic
2 Tbs olive oil
finely grated zest and juice 1 lemon
2/3 cup (100g) peanuts

For the crust place all ingredients in food processor except the peanuts and process until finely chopped.  Add peanuts and process briefly leaving it quite chunky.  Set aside.  Heat oil in a large frying pan over medium heat.  Season lamb racks with S and P and cook in two batches, for about a minute each side, or until nicely browned.  Rest for 15 mins then press the crust onto the fatty side of each lamb rack.   Place shallots in a baking tray, drizzle with some olive oil, then place the lamb racks on top, propping the bony sides up against each other.  (I prepared the dish to this point in the morning)

Preheat oven to 200°C. Roast lamb for 35 minutes for medium-rare (see note below) or until cooked to liking.  Rest for 10 mins then carve into individual cutlets and serve with the roasted shallots and rhubarb compote.

Note: the Delicious magazine recipe calls for spring lamb.  The lamb racks I used were larger and had 9 cutlets each.  I had also done the browning earlier in the day, so they had got cold.  So I roasted them for 45 mins, plus resting time and they were perfectly cooked, medium-rare. If the crust starts to get too brown during cooking time, cover loosely with a piece of foil.

Serves 8, two cutlets each

Rhubarb Compote
2 bunches rhubarb, washed and trimmed
1/2 cup caster sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 Tbs pomegranate molasses (from delis and specialist cookshops)

Cut rhubarb into 1-2cm pieces. Place in a saucepan over medium heat with sugar and water.  Bring to the boil, then simmer for 10-12 mins or until thick.  Add pomegranate molasses, place in serving dish and put aside to cool.  Serve with lamb.  It would also be nice with chicken, pork or ham. (Note: the recipe in the magazine used 2 cups of water which was far too much!)

Thyme Infused Carrots
2-3 bunches baby carrots
40g butter
2 tsp thyme leaves
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
Juice 1 orange

Scrub carrots and trim, leaving a short bit of green at the ends, then halve lengthwise.  Cook in boiling salted water until just slightly under-cooked.  Refresh under cold water, drain then put in a frying pan which is wide enough to fit the carrots.  Add remaining ingredients then put the pan aside until close to serving time.  Bring to the boil then simmer, turning the carrots until they’re nicely glazed and the liquid has evaporated.  Serve immediately.

Serves 8

Minted Baby Peas
4 cups frozen baby peas
1 tsp sugar
30g butter
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
S and P to taste

Cook peas in boiling salted water for 2-3 mins.  Refresh under cold water, then drain.  Place in a saucepan with remaining ingredients.  Can be prepared ahead to this stage.  At serving time reheat over medium heat, stirring.  Season to taste and serve immediately.

Serves 8

Potato Soufflés
80g butter
1/2 cup plain flour
450ml (just under 2 cups) milk
shake of ground nutmeg
2 cups mashed potatoes (mashed with some cream and a large knob of butter)
S and P to taste
4 eggs
1 beaten egg for painting the soufflés prior to baking

Set oven to 180°C and oil about 10 half cup soufflé dishes and place them on a baking tray.  Preheat oven to 200°C.  In a non-stick saucepan heat butter and when melted add flour.  Stir for 2-3 minutes until the flour is cooked but not coloured, then gradually add the milk, mixing to incorporate before you add more.  When sauce is thick and smooth add nutmeg, mashed potato and season to taste.

Remove pan from heat and add the egg yolks one by one, placing the whites in a large mixing bowl.  Beat the whites until soft peaks form, using electric beaters.  Add some of the sauce to the whites and mix well, then add the rest and mix thoroughly using a plastic spatula.  Divide mixture between the soufflé dishes, filling them almost to the top. Bake for about 15 minutes or until risen and golden brown.  If liked you can serve them now, leaving them in the dishes and just sitting them on the side of the dinner plates.  Or you can use the following twice-baked method which takes a bit of the stress out of the last-minute nature of soufflés.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool.   Line a baking tin with baking paper and spray it with oil, run a knife around each soufflé and tip onto the paper, leaving a space of 2-3cm between each one. Recipe can be made ahead to this point and kept refrigerated and covered, for up to 24 hours.

To serve set oven to 200°C.  Using a pastry brush, paint the top of each soufflé with a little beaten egg, then bake for 10-15 minutes, or until puffed and golden.  If serving with the rack of lamb, place in the oven during the last 10 mins of the lamb’s cooking time, then they can continue to cook when lamb is removed to rest for 10 mins.  Soufflés will take slightly longer if they’ve been in the fridge. Remove with a fish slice to serving plates.

Makes 10

Tasting Plate of Favourite Desserts

Dark Chocolate Ganache:

200ml cream
150g dark/bitter chocolate
pink peppercorns (from specialty shops – dry, slightly perfumed not the ones in brine)

White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry

Mousse:
150g white chocolate
2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp gelatine
200ml cream
2 eggs
Coulis:
1 cup raspberries, fresh or frozen
1/4 cup caster sugar

Salted Caramel Tartlets:

8 small tartlet shells made with sweet shortcrust pastry, baked and cooled
1 can Nestlé Top ‘n Fill Caramel
250ml cream
Maldon or Murray River salt flakes

Chocolate Ganache: heat cream to boiling point.  Add chocolate broken into squares and stir until melted.  Divide between about 8 shot glasses (will depend on size) then chill or you may prefer them at room temp.  Serve sprinkled with a few pink peppercorns.

White Chocolate Mousse with Raspberry Coulis: place chocolate, milk and vanilla in a bowl over simmering water until chocolate has melted, stir well and remove from heat. Dissolve gelatine in a Tbs of water, zap in the microwave then mix into the chocolate. Cool a bit then mix in the egg yolks. Whip the egg whites first then using the same beaters whip the cream (not the other way round as the whites won’t whip with greasy beaters!). Fold the cream into the chocolate, then lastly the egg whites. Pour into about 8 shot glasses (will depend on size) leaving a small space at the top for the coulis. Refrigerate several hours or overnight. Coulis: defrost the raspberries and mix with the sugar. Leave for a while so the sugar dissolves, whiz in a blender, then push through a sieve, discarding the seeds. To serve, pour a layer of coulis on top of each chocolate moussse.

Salted Caramel Tartlets: in a small saucepan heat cream and caramel Top ‘n Fill gently until thoroughly incorporated.  Cool slightly then use to fill tart shells.  Store at room temperature for up to several hours.  Serve sprinkled with a few salt flakes.  This is enough filling for about 20 tartlets.

Arrange the three desserts on a small plate or individual serving tray (as shown in photo).

Serves 8

Sesame Cheese Biscuits

These delicious biscuits are family favourites to serve with drinks.  They’re a traditional Aussie recipe and were made by all the ladies of a certain age – my mother in law, her sister and my dear friend Joan Tyrrel who passed away last year. While the recipe says to use cheddar, you can use any hard cheeses, including a mixture of leftover bits and pieces! At their best when fresh, they will keep in a tin with a lid for up to a week, if they last that long.

Sesame Cheese Biscuits
200g plain flour
200g butter
200g cheddar cheese, grated
1-2 tsp dry English mustard or cayenne pepper (optional)
Sesame seeds to coat

Preheat oven to 180C.  Place flour and butter in food processor and process until fine crumbs.  If liked add some English mustard powder or cayenne pepper at this stage.  Add grated cheddar and continue to process until mixture forms a ball.  Tip out then pinch off pieces the size of a large walnut and roll into balls.  Roll balls in sesame seeds to coat them all over, then arrange on baking trays lined with baking paper.  Press each biscuit lightly with a fork and leave a space between each one as they will spread while cooking.  On a hot day it’s a good idea to refrigerate the biscuits for about half an hour before cooking.  Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.  Cool on cake racks.

Makes about 45 biscuits

Note: you can make this recipe with less or more ingredients, just keep the weights of flour, butter and cheese equal

Prawn Pancakes with Green Shallot Dressing

For Valentine’s Day we had a fantastic dinner at a new restaurant in Canberra called Soju Girl.  In fact it was so good that we’ve booked to go again with 3 other couples so we can have the banquet, which they only do for a minimum of eight.

Inspired by the presentation of one of their dishes I came up with this recipe which makes a delicious starter or canapé.

Prawn Pancakes with Green Shallot Dressing

Pancake batter:
2 eggs
4 heaped Tbs plain flour
2 Tbs vegetable oil
pinch of salt
1 cup milk
½ cup water
Filling:
500g peeled cooked prawns
½ cup mayonnaise (preferably home-made)
Juice and grated rind of 1 lime or half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs snipped chives
Green Shallot Dressing:
½ cup vegetable oil
2-3 green shallots (spring onions), green part only
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
pinch sugar
lemon juice or white vinegar to taste
To serve:
Extra chives
Some salmon roe (not shown in photo) would look nice too

Place all ingredients for pancakes in food processor and process until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides.  Add a little more water if necessary to make a thin batter which coats the back of a spoon.  Heat a small non-stick omelette pan and use about 3 Tbs batter to make thin pancakes, stacking them in a pile as you make them.  You won’t need to oil the pan as the batter contains oil.  Pancakes should be light golden and will take only 30 seconds or so to cook on each side.

Place prawns in food processor and blitz until chunky.  Tip into a bowl and add remaining ingredients.  Lay pancakes out on the bench top and use about 3 heaped tablespoons of filling for each pancake.  Place the filling in a fat sausage shape along one side, then roll up tightly.  Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving time.  You may run out of filling and have pancakes left which can be used for something else.

Place dressing ingredients in food processor and blitz until chunky-smooth.  Place in a bottle with a squirty top if you have one.

To serve, cut the ragged ends off each pancake then slice evenly into three.  Arrange three little chimneys on each serving plate and surround with some of the dressing.  If liked, garnish with extra chives as shown in the photo.

To serve as finger food with drinks, cut the pancakes into thinner slices, arrange on a platter and serve the sauce in a separate dish so people can dunk them in.

Makes about 8 pancakes

Variations:

  • to bulk up the filling and make it go further you could add a diced firm avocado and perhaps a touch of finely chopped fresh red chilli.
  • use crab meat instead of prawns
  • add some Asian flavours to the prawn/mayo mix such as grated ginger, chilli, Fish Sauce

Dukkah

Dukkah is a quick and easy Middle Eastern snack to serve with drinks.  It’s basically a mix of roasted then ground nuts and seeds, served with fresh bread and olive oil.

You can use any mixture of nuts you have available.  Sesame seeds are essential and while I’ve seen recipes which use fennel seeds, I prefer coriander and cumin.

Dukkah
125g shelled nuts (pine nuts, skinned hazelnuts, almonds or a mixture)
2 Tbs sesame seeds
2 Tbs whole coriander seeds
2 Tbs whole cumin seeds
salt (preferably Maldon flakes or similar) and freshly ground black pepper
chilli powder (optional)
To serve: extra virgin olive oil and fresh bread

Place nuts and seeds in a heavy frying pan.  Stir over moderate heat for several minutes or until nuts start to brown and seeds start to pop.  Cool then blitz in a food processor until finely ground.  Don’t over-process or mixture will become oily and sticky.  Add salt and pepper to taste and a little chilli powder if using.  You will need to add between one and two teaspoons of salt.  Store in a sealed container in the fridge and serve with olive oil and fresh bread –  the idea is to dip the bread in the oil first, so the dukkah sticks.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

In the photo you can also see balsamic vinegar and sundried tomato pesto, which also go well with the oil and dukkah.

A mid-week BBQ

Some neighbours have sold their house and are moving, so we invited them round for a farewell BBQ dinner. With drinks I served Tuna and Avocado Spoons, drizzled with a Wasabi dressing. Invented by my daughter Catherine, these delicious mouthfuls make the most of sashimi grade tuna and are made in a jiffy.

For the main course we barbecued some Chicken and Chorizo kebabs and served them with Crispy Potatoes with Bacon and Rosemary (Delicious magazine February 2012) and Shaved Fennel and Zucchini Salad topped with crumbled feta – another winner from Catherine. For dessert a crustless Lemon Tart with cream. The weather has suddenly turned wintry so we had to eat inside. A week ago we were able to sit outside until eleven when some other friends joined us for dinner. It’s been a very strange summer weather-wise.

Tuna and Avocado Spoons with Wasabi Dressing

200-250g piece of sashimi-grade tuna
1 or 2 avocados, halved and thinly sliced
Fresh Coriander leaves
Lightly toasted sesame seeds to garnish – black ones look good
Dressing:
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs soy sauce
1½ Tbs sesame oil
2 tsp finely grated fresh ginger
1 Tbs brown sugar
¼ tsp wasabi paste, or to taste

Slice tuna thinly. This is easier to do if the tuna has been frozen and is only partially thawed. Arrange a piece on Chinese spoons, top each with a slice of avocado and a coriander leaf. Drizzle with dressing, sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve when the tuna has thawed – it will only take a few minutes.

Dressing: Place all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously.

Makes 16-20 spoons

Chicken and Chorizo Kebabs

1kg boned and skinned chicken thighs
About 1.5kg raw chorizo sausages
Marinade:
1 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tsp oregano
2 tsp smoked paprika (or ordinary paprika is fine)
1 Tbs lemon juice
2 tsp brown sugar

Soak about 16 wooden skewers in cold water for 20 mins or so. Place marinade ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Trim chicken to remove any fat or gristle and cut into 2.5cm cubes and add to marinade. Stir to combine – chicken will pretty much absorb it. Cut the sausages into 1cm slices. Thread chicken and chorizo onto skewers, alternating them. Leave aside in a dish to continue marinating. Can be made ahead and kept covered in the fridge for several hours or overnight.

Cook on a medium-hot barbecue for 8-10 minutes each side or until cooked through.

Makes about 16 kebabs

Shaved Fennel and Zucchini Salad with Dill and Feta

1 or 2 zucchini depending on size, sliced very thinly
1-2 bulbs of fennel, depending on size, sliced very thinly
2/3 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
½ cup toasted pine nuts
100g feta cheese
4-5 handfuls rocket leaves
Dressing:
¼ cup lemon juice
1/3 cup olive oil
salt to taste
1 tsp honey

The quickest way to cut the zucchini (courgettes) and fennel is through the slicing blade of a Magimix or using a mandoline. Place in a bowl with dill and rocket. Place dressing ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously. Mix dressing with salad then pile into a shallow flattish serving dish. Sprinkle the pine nuts and crumbled feta over the top.

Crispy Potatoes with Bacon and Rosemary

1 kg potatoes cut into 3cm cubes (I used kipfler from the garden)
2-3 sprigs rosemary, leaves picked off
1/4 cup + 1 Tbs olive oil
3 rashers bacon, finely chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Tbs chopped parsley

If liked peel the potatoes or just scrub them well and cut into cubes. Line a roasting pan with baking paper and set the oven to 180°C. Mix potatoes with 1/4 cup olive oil, rosemary leaves, salt and pepper to taste. Tip into the roasting pan and roast for about 40 minutes, or until golden, stirring once or twice during cooking time.. Meanwhile heat 1 Tbs olive oil in a frying pan and cook bacon for 2 minutes, stirring, then add onion and garlic and continue to cook for 8-10 minutes until soft. Add onion and bacon to the potatoes, mix through then continue to bake for a further 10 mins. Mix in the parsely and serve.

Crustless Lemon Tart

120g butter at room temperature
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
250ml cream
1/2 cup lemon juice
finely grated rind of 2 lemons
120g self-raising, sifted

Preheat oven to 170°C. Lightly butter a ceramic quiche or similar round dish and line the bottom with baking paper. With electric beaters, beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. In another bowl with the same beaters, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then beat in the egg yolks, cream and lemon juice and rind. Fold in the sifted flour and lastly the egg whites, in two batches. Tip into the dish and bake for about 25-35 minutes or until set to the touch and golden. Turn off the oven, open the door and leave the tart to cool in the oven.

When cool, refrigerate until serving time. Dust with icing sugar and serve with thick cream.

Serves 8-10

Note: the reason for whipping the egg whites first even though you add them last is simply to save having to wash the beaters. Egg whites must be whipped with clean beaters.,