Lamb Pies with Mushrooms and Herb Butter

One of my favourite places to lunch with friends is at the Palette Cafe, located in the Beaver Galleries in Deakin. They are not open in the evening and are closed on Mondays.

In the warmer months my favourite dish was the avocado and smoked salmon salad served on a spicy gazpacho-style tomato sauce. It’s so good, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ordered it! One of my friends always has the brains with crispy bacon, which she says are to die for. I have been there umpteen times and never had a bad meal. We went there for Mother’s Day brunch and it was excellent. Anyone who can make scrambled or poached eggs which are as good as the ones you make yourself wins my vote. Hats off chef, Meaghan Pidd.

I recently ate one of Meaghan’s delicious lamb pies, served on a bed of sauteed mushrooms, so I decided to make something similar. Eight pies might be too many but you could do as I did – bake four and freeze the rest, then just make half the mushroom mixture. While meat pies are not for those trying to cut down on cholesterol, on a cold winter’s day they just hit the spot!

About 7 sheets of ready-rolled bought puff pastry
1 egg, beatenphoto
Filling for Pies:
1 Tbs olive oil
25g butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 kg lean lamb e.g. leg, shoulder (weight after trimming)
1 cup white wine
1 Tbs brandy
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp dried thyme or 1 Tbs fresh, chopped
½ a chicken stock cube
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 heaped tsp cornflour mixed with 2 Tbs water
500g button mushrooms
50g butter
¼ cup sherry
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Herb Butter:
¼ cup parsley sprigs
1 small clove garlic, crushed
125g butter at room temperature
Pinch of salt if using unsalted butter

Heat oil and butter in a large heavy-based pan and add the onion and garlic. Cook gently, stirring often, until soft but not browned. Cut the meat into 2cm cubes and add to the pan. Turn up the heat and cook, stirring continuously, until the meat starts to brown. Add the brandy and continue to stir as it evaporates. Add remaining ingredients apart from cornflour mixture. Simmer until meat is tender. This will depend on the meat, but shouldn’t take long. If there’s not enough liquid, add a dash of water. When meat is tender add cornflour mixture, stirring until the sauce thickens. Cool, then refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Cut sixteen circles of pastry about 15cm in diameter using a saucer or bowl to cut around. You may only get one per sheet of pastry, then you will need to gather the trimmings, re-roll and cut the rest. Divide meat filling amongst 8 of the circles, leaving 2cm around the edge. The gravy will have thickened, so it can all be used. Dampen edges of pastry circles, place another circle on top. The tops will seem too small, but if you go round squeezing the edges together they will stretch to fit. You will end up with 8 flying saucer shaped pies. Invert them onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. They can be refrigerated at this stage for up to 24 hours, covered, or frozen for up to a month.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Thaw pies if frozen. Brush with beaten egg. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Serve on a bed of mushrooms with a slice of herb butter on the side.

Mushrooms: wipe mushrooms and cut into quarters, or eighths if they are larger. Heat butter in a non-stick frying pan and cook mushrooms, stirring, until slightly softened. Add sherry and mustard. Cook for a minute or two to evaporate some of the liquid, then season to taste.

Herb Butter: place herbs in food processor and chop very finely. Add butter, garlic and salt and process to mix well. Scrape out onto a piece of plastic wrap. Use the plastic to form butter into a small log about 2cm in diameter, wrap in the plastic wrap and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. It will keep for two weeks in the fridge.

Serves 8

Quick Lamb Chops and Zucchini with Tarragon & Sour Cream

Getting a tasty evening meal on the table in next to no time is a challenge faced by all working parents. In his cook books 30-minute Meals and more recently 15-minute Meals, Jamie Oliver set out to show how this can be achieved.

About twice a month we have lamb chops or cutlets as a week day dinner. My favourite recipe is so quick and simple, it’s hardly a recipe at all. Mix equal quantities of Dijon mustard, honey and finely chopped fresh rosemary. A heaped teaspoon of each makes enough for two people. If you coat the chops with this mixture before you cook them the honey has a tendency to burn and go black. A better method is to pan fry the chops for 2-3 minutes each side in a smidgen of oil. Then paint or drizzle with the honey mixture and cook for another minute or so each side.

At the moment we have zucchini (courgettes) and fresh tarragon in the garden, so it’s time to make one of our favourite vegetable dishes Zucchini with Tarragon and Sour Cream. This recipe makes the most of the two main ingredients, zucchini and tarragon. You can buy zucchini pretty much all year round in Australia, but fresh tarragon is much harder to find. We have masses of it in the garden in summer when it grows like a weed.  Then it dies down and I have to do without until next season. I’ve tried freezing, but it’s not quite the same.

This recipe is a good way of using zucchini which have grown a bit too big – just remove the seeds if they are starting to look like marrows!

Zucchini with Tarragon & Sour Cream

1 kg zucchini (courgettes)Quick Lamb Chops and Zucchini with Tarragon & Sour Cream
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs butter
¾ cup sour cream
½ cup chopped fresh tarragon, firmly packed
freshly ground black pepper

Wash zucchini, remove seeds if they are really big, but leave skin on.  Grate coarsely, place in a sieve with the salt mixed through to drain for a minimum of 10 minutes and up to half an hour. Squeeze and press hard to remove most of the moisture. Heat butter in a large frying pan and stir-fry zucchini for 4-5 minutes. Add sour cream, tarragon, pepper and check to see if it needs any more salt.  Don’t boil and serve immediately.

Serves 6

Mum’s Lamb Casserole

When our kids were in their teens we had a dinner roster.  I still did most of the cooking, but once or twice a month each of the kids was responsible for the feeding the clan.  It didn’t have to be elaborate – just something easy they knew how to do.  I’m a great believer in this roster approach to dinner time. Apart from the fact that it’s nice for the Chief Cook and Bottle Washer to have the occasional night off, it means that when the kids leave home – and eventually they do – they won’t starve.

Working on the same principle, my Mum taught me to make this casserole when I was in my early teens.  The fact that I still make it is testimony to its success. With creamy mash or baked potatoes it’s still one of my favourite “comfort foods”.

We were given a Crock Pot as a wedding present and I used it for years. Every busy cook should have one.  Somehow in a house move it disappeared and I really missed it, so when I saw one in a garage sale I snapped it up.

Crock Pots are great for working mums because you can leave dinner to cook in your absence. Switch it on as you leave, then when you get back check how its going. It just needs an occasional stir and you can turn it up to High if it’s not cooking fast enough, or down to Low if it’s cooking too fast.

Browning the chops adds flavour to the dish, but if you’re really pressed for time skip this stage and you will still have a tasty dish.  It may seem strange to see a recipe which can take anything from 4 to 8 hours to cook.  But that’s the whole point of a slow cooker – you can adjust the temperature to suit your timetable.

1.5 kg lamb chops (cheap cuts like neck or forequarter chops) trimmed of all excess fat
1 x 425g tin tomatoes, chopped
1 cup water
2-3 parsnips, cut into chunks (optional)
2-3 carrots, sliced thickly
1 beef stock cube, crumbled (I use the Oxo brand my mother used)
1 large onion, chopped
3 Tbs dry sherry or red wine
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 bay leaves or a sprig of fresh rosemary
1 tsp sugar
S and P to taste
2-3 cups frozen peasBrown chops on both sides in a large frying pan with just a tiny drizzle of oil, almost none.   Place chops in slow cooker with remaining ingredients apart from frozen peas. Discard any fat in the frying pan, then pour the cup of water in and scrape it around to remove any brown bits and add to the casserole. Cover and cook on high for 4-6 hrs or on low for 6-8 hrs, until meat is very tender.  Stir every hour or two if you are around – if not don’t worry, it can look after itself for quite a while.  Add peas during the last 30-60 mins or so of cooking.  Once ready the casserole will stay that way for a while if you switch it to Low.  Serve with creamy mashed potatoes or potatoes baked in their jackets, with a dollop of sour cream and chives.Serves 6

Variations: add a tin of drained chickpeas instead of peas and 1-2 tsp cumin, then serve with couscous.  Or add a tin of haricot or kidney beans.

Notes: If you don’t have a slow cooker use a large heavy iron casserole with a lid and cook in the oven.  It will take 3-4 hours at 160°C and will need a little more water – check and add as necessary.

Recipes usually call for a tablespoon or two of tomato paste, leaving you with the rest of the jar or tin which goes off in the fridge within a week or so.  To avoid this fill ice cube trays with tomato paste.  When frozen tip cubes into a plastic container to use whenever you need them.

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

150g white chocolate
2 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp gelatine
200ml cream
2 eggs
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

Lamb on the BBQ

With a growing family, we had two Christmas lunches this year.  With visitors from overseas, it was simply impossible to do everyone on one day.

For the second family gathering I decided to barbecue a boned leg of lamb, using a recipe from the December edition of Delicious magazine.  It’s one of the best food magazines on the market and I have a subscription.  Always full of inspiring ideas.  Here is my slightly adapted version which was delicious.  Boning a leg of lamb is not as hard as it looks – just keep cutting the meat away from the bone at one end, then start on the other end and eventually you will meet up and be able to pull it out!  The magazine suggested serving the lamb with a cucumber, tomato and spinach salad, with a lemony dressing, topped with toasted sesame seeds, which went very well.  The recipe called for Harissa, which I didn’t have, but Sambal Oelek was a perfect substitute.

Chermoula Lamb with Yoghurt Dressing

1 large leg of lamb, boned
4 cloves garlic
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
A handful of fresh coriander
A handful of fresh mint
2 Tbs Harissa or Sambal Oelek (both are chilli pastes)
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
2 Tbs olive oil
250g thick Greek-style yoghurt
A handful of chopped fresh mint
2 preserved lemon quarters
A few fresh coriander sprigs
A few slivers of preserved lemon, extra

After removing the bone from the lamb, cut through the part where it’s still joined, so you can open the meat out flat.  Place in a ceramic dish.  Place dressing ingredients in food processor and process until smooth.  Pour over lamb, turn to coat thoroughly.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Next day remove meat from marinade and cook on a medium to hot BBQ until done to liking.  If you leave the meat spread out some parts will be quite thin, so they will be rather well done by the time the thicker bits are cooked.  So if you prefer your meat medium-rare, use some kitchen string to form it back into a round shape with the skin on the outside.  As the meat is cooking, baste regularly with remaining marinade.  If the meat has been left spread out it will take 15-20 minutes each side.  If reformed into a round shape with string, it will take about an hour.  A meat thermometer is a good investment for getting it right.

Let the meat rest, covered loosely with foil, for about 10 minutes then slice thinly and arrange on a serving platter.  Garnish with the coriander and a few slivers of preserved lemon.  Serve yoghurt dressing separately.

Dressing:  Rinse the lemon quarters, discarding the pulpy part.  Finely chop the skin, then mix into the yoghurt with the mint.

Serves 8-10

Preparing ahead

The secret to stress-free entertaining is having as much as possible prepared before the guests arrived.  Last night two couples we hadn’t seen for some time joined us for dinner, so I chose a menu which involved a couple of hours of preparation, but would leave me free to enjoy their company.

We started off with Prawn, Avocado and Tomato Tian with Green Shallot Dressing, adapted from a recipe by Curtis Stone which uses crab rather than prawns.  Crab is expensive and often difficult to find, whereas cooked prawns are readily available and often on special.  I had all the elements ready in the fridge and just had to assemble the tians before we sat down.  In Curtis Stone’s recipe he used beefsteak tomatoes and managed to cut circles for the tops of the tians.  My tomatoes weren’t big enough, so I had to use several pieces.

Prawn, Avocado and Tomato Tian with Green Shallot Dressing

Prawn Layer
1 kg cooked prawns, shelled and deveined (about 500g shelled weight)
Juice of 1/2 a lemon or one lime
2 Tbs mayonnaise, preferably home-made
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Avocado Layer
3 ripe avocados
1/2 red onion, very finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lemon or one lime
2 Tbs mayonnaise, preferably home-made
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Tomato Layer:
6-8 large ripe tomatoes
Salt flakes, such as Maldon
Olive oil
Green Shallot Dressing
4 spring onions, mostly the green tops
1 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white wine or white balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place prawns in food processor.  Pulse a few times to chop roughly but still leave some large chunky bits.  Mix with remaining ingredients for prawn layer, cover and refrigerate until serving time.  Peel and dice avocados and mix with remaining ingredients, cover and refrigerate.  Cover tomatoes with boiling water for 1-2 minutes.  Refresh under a cold tap, then cut a cross on the bottoms and remove skins.  Cut tops off the tomatoes – just far enough down so you get rid of where the stalk was – then remove all seeds and pulp and discard.  It’s easier to do this if you make a cut down the side of the tomato.  You should be left with just the outer layer of each tomato in one large piece which you can flatten out.  Place on a plate lined with paper towel and refrigerate.  Place all ingredients for dressing in food processor, process until smooth, then place in a small jug or a bottle with a squirty top.

Just before serving time use stacking rings to assemble the tians – prawn layer, then avocado layer.  If you’re only making six servings you will have some prawn and avocado leftover.  Lastly cut pieces of tomato to cover the top – doesn’t matter if it’s like a jigsaw puzzle.  Brush tomato with a little olive oil and sprinkle with a few flakes of salt.  Drizzle some dressing around each tian, lift off the rings and serve.

Serves 6-8

For the main course I served lamb cutlets with mint pesto.  Crunchy roast potatoes and pea puree went down well with this.  Boil the halved potatoes until they are almost done, then drain, place on baking paper on an oven tray and spray with oil.  You can do them ahead to this stage, then just bake for about half an hour or so in a hot oven until brown and crispy.  For the peas boil half a kilo of frozen peas in salted water.  When tender blitz in the food processor with a lump of butter and about 2 Tbs of cream.  Season to taste then push the puree through a sieve.  This can also be done ahead and reheated in the microwave in a covered bowl.  For each serving put a circle of pea puree in the centre of the plate, then arrange two potatoes (propped up against each other looks good) and two lamb cutlets on top,  with a blob of mint pesto on each cutlet.   You will have to cook the cutlets at the last minute but they don’t take long.  Just season then pan fry in a tiny amount of olive oil for 2-3 minutes each side.

Mint Pesto

1 bunch mint, washed, leaves removed
2 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 cup pine nuts
2 tsp honey
1 clove garlic, crushed
Between 1/4 and 1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 Tbs white balsamic vinegar or lemon juice

Place mint, Parmesan, pine nuts, honey and garlic in food processor and process until chunky, stopping once to scrape down the sides.  Add oil through the feed chute with the motor running.  Stop when you have a thick spoonable pesto, then lastly add vinegar or lemon juice and seasoning to taste.  It should be slightly chunky, not completely smooth.  Place pesto in a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.  The top with darken, but if you give it a quick mix it will be a nice bright green when you serve it.

We finished off with individual Pineapple and Pepper Tarte Tatins – the usual butter and sugar caramel, but the pineapple rings were seasoned with coarsely ground black pepper – served with vanilla icecream.