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

 

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.

Chicken Lady Chicken

While living in Paris for four years I noticed several differences in the shopping, eating and cooking habits of the French, compared with ours.

They generally don’t stock up on food in big supermarkets. Living in an apartment, as almost everyone does in big cities like Paris, makes getting groceries from the supermarket into your home a real challenge. With limited parking and, for some Parisians, no elevator, it’s much easier to shop at the local markets every few days. Buy what you need, eat it fresh, then go and buy more. Little trolleys on wheels are perfect for shopping this way. An added deterrent to buying up big is that most Paris apartments have tiny kitchens with limited cupboard and freezer space.

I reckon one of the reasons many French women stay slim is that they don’t eat a big meal every evening. Several svelte French friends told me that during the week their husbands went out for a three course lunch and were quite happy with something very light in the evening. Women who work do the same. So as I was heading home to cook our main meal of the day, they were going home to have “un petit yaourt” or “une tartine” – a slice of toast with something on it.

I also noticed that the French don’t get stuck into baguettes and French cheeses quite the way we do. I’ve watched lithesome French friends make one slice of baguette last through several courses, used as required to push food onto their fork. When the cheese course, which is served before dessert, arrives they take only a small sliver of each. French cheeses are marvellous, but they are high in calories and cholesterol.

The French also tend to be more abstemious when it comes to wine consumption, as we noted when we cleared up the empties after a dinner party for mainly French guests and compared it with the week before when we had hosted mainly Aussies.

While they regularly eat out, our French friends like to entertain family and close friends. With the limitations of a small kitchen and an equally small oven, dessert often comes from the local patisserie. With such a wonderful array to choose from, why bother cooking? There are of course exceptions. I have several French friends who make wonderful cakes and desserts, using recipes inherited from their mothers and grandmothers.

Food markets pop up all over Paris in regular spots, once or twice a week. The twice-weekly market in Boulevard de Grenelle was less than five minutes walk from where we lived. Every Wednesday and Sunday from seven in the morning until lunch time the market sells fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, meat, fish and more to a bustling crowd of mostly French customers.

On Sundays the rotisserie chickens and roast potatoes sold at the markets are popular to take home for lunch. Today’s recipe comes from well-known cook and food writer David Lebovitz who has been living in Paris for over 20 years. He managed to persuade the chicken lady at his local market to part with her delicious recipe. Hence the name Chicken Lady Chicken. He uses the marinade for one chicken, but I found it’s enough for two. She uses white wine but I think red wine or even sherry is a good substitute.

1 or 2 1.5kg (3 lb) chickens
Marinade:
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1½ tsp salt
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
2 Tbs wine or sherry
1 Tbs soy sauce
2½ tsp harissa, Sriracha or other chilli paste
2 tsp Dijon or other mustard
2 tsp honey

Remove backbone from the chicken(s) by cutting along each side with a pair of poultry shears. Place chicken breast side down on cutting board and press hard with the heel of your hand to flatten it out as much as possible, then repeat on the other side. Loosen the skin a bit with your finger so the marinade can get in under the skin.

Mix all ingredients for marinade and pour over the chicken(s), rubbing it in and pushing it under the skin. Marinate for 1 to 2 days in the fridge, covered, turning from time to time. Levovitz does this in a plastic bag, but I used a shallow dish.

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place chickens in a roasting pan breast side down. Cover loosely with aluminum foil then place a heavy weight on top. I used two bricks, one for each chicken. Lebovitz cooks his chicken for a total of 45 mins but I think it needs a bit longer. Roast for half an hour, then remove the brick(s) and foil and turn the chickens over, basting thoroughly. Roast for a further half hour or until chickens are well browned and cooked through.

Carve the chicken(s) and serve with roast potatoes and a salad.

Each chicken serves 4-6

Roasted Cherry Tomato and Goat Cheese Bruschetta

These scrumptious bruschettas make a perfect weekend lunch for four, or two if you’re feeling a bit peckish.

Well-known cook, food blogger and author David Lebovitz makes his own cheese from goat’s milk yoghurt for this recipe, which features in his book “My Paris Kitchen”. He calls them Crostini. To speed things up I used a packet of Aldi goat cheese and a bit of feta.

Roasted Tomatoes:
650g cherry tomatoes
3 Tbs olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Handful fresh herbs (whatever you can find), roughly chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Herbed Goat Cheese:
125g soft goat’s cheese (see note below)
Cream or plain yoghurt
1 Tbs chopped fresh herbs (eg chives, parsley, thyme)
1 Tbs finely chopped shallots (I used 2 spring onions)
1 clove garlic, crushed
Pinch cayenne pepper
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Toasts:
4 thick slices sourdough or other country-style bread
Olive oil
1 clove garlic
Fresh herbs to garnish

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix tomatoes with remaining ingredients and tip into a baking dish where they fit snugly in one layer. Roast for 30-45 minutes or until wilted and starting to brown a bit. Stir once during cooking time. Remove from the oven and cool. Can be made several hours and up to a day ahead.

Place cheese on a plate and mash with a fork, adding enough cream or yoghurt to achieve a thick spreading consistency. Mix in remaining ingredients. This can also be made ahead of time.

Brush bread on both sides with olive oil then bake in a hot oven for 5 minutes or until golden. I used a sandwich press which is much quicker and avoids having to turn the oven on again. If liked rub a cut clove of garlic over the toasts.

Spread herbed cheese thickly onto each slice of toast, top with the tomatoes and garnish with fresh herbs.

Makes 4 bruschettas

Note: I used a 115g packet of Goat’s cheese from Aldi and made it up to 125g with some Danish-style feta. Any soft creamy cheese will do. In South America you could use “queso fresco”.

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.

Baked Figs with Prosciutto and Goat’s Cheese

Fresh figs are in season for a very short time, but now is the time, if you live in Australia.

One of my favourite ways to serve fresh figs is with smoked salmon. It may sound like a strange combination, but give it a try – I think it’s delicious. Another favourite recipe is this one where they are wrapped in Prosciutto, stuffed with goat’s cheese and then baked. The recipe serves two as a light lunch but is easy to multiply.

4 fresh figs
2 slices Prosciutto or Jamon Serrano
40-50g goat’s cheese
1 tsp balsamic glaze or vinegar
1 tsp olive oil
1 tsp honey
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Rocket
Chopped walnuts
Simple oil and vinegar dressing
Balsamic glaze

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Remove stalks from figs then cut a cross on the tops. Squeeze gently from the bottom to open them up a bit. Cut each slice of ham in two lengthwise so you have 4 long strips. Wrap one around each fig, secure with a toothpick, then place in a small shallow baking dish. Stuff the cheese into the tops of the figs.

Mix the balsamic, oil and honey and drizzle over. Season with S and P then bake for 15-20 minutes. Serve with a rocket salad with some walnuts added and a simple oil and vinegar dressing. Garnish the plate with balsamic glaze.

Serves 2

Variations: use a creamy blue cheese instead of goat’s cheese

Zucchini, Goat’s Cheese and Pea Tart

Cleaning out the freezer I found a ball of shortcrust pastry I had forgotten about. Once thawed I looked in the fridge to see what I could find to make a savoury tart, without going shopping, and came up with this. Leftovers heated up well for lunch the following day.

If you have fresh peas in the garden by all means use those instead of frozen peas.

1 batch home-made shortcrust pastry (or substitute shop bought)
4 eggs
½ cup cream or milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs chopped mint
350g coarsely grated zucchini (courgette)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
100g goat’s cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
To serve:
1 cup frozen peas, extra
Mint sprigs

Preheat oven to 180°C. Use pastry to line base and sides of a slice pan, about 20/25 cm by about 30cm. Place zucchini in a sieve and mix in a teaspoon of salt. Leave to drain, then push down on it to squeeze out excess liquid. Beat eggs with cream or milk and lemon rind. Add zucchini, peas and lots of pepper then pour evenly into the pastry case. Scatter cheese over the top then bake for 25-30 mins or until set.

Meanwhile pour boiling water over the extra peas. Leave for a minute then drain. Cut the tart into squares and garnish with the extra peas and mint sprigs.

Serves 6

Variations: use asparagus spears, thinly sliced on the diagonal, instead of the zucchini.

Oeufs en Cocotte

A few weeks ago I was looking for good breakfast dishes on Café Cat to recommend to 2CC radio listeners who wanted to spoil their Mum on Mothers’ Day. As I looked through the Index I realised that, despite being into its seventh year, Café Cat had not yet published my absolute favourite egg dish, Oeufs en Cocotte, which is just a fancy French way of saying Baked Eggs.

Serve this for breakfast, brunch, lunch or supper to put a smile on everyone’s face. If you’re a fan of eggs I guarantee you’ll like this one. Once you’ve made them a couple of times you will know exactly how long they take in your oven.

Other delicious egg recipes you might like to try are Salad Lyonnaise à la Madeleine and Spanish Eggs with Jamon.

30g butter
Stale breadcrumbs (about 4 heaped Tbs or so)
4 large eggs
4 heaped tsp sour cream or crème fraîche
1 Tbs snipped chives
To serve:
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Hot buttered toast

Preheat oven to 180°C. Make the breadcrumbs by whizzing a slice or two of stale bread in the food processor. Don’t make them too fine. Butter two half cup ramekins and put a small piece of butter in each. Heat the rest of the butter in a non-stick frying pan and cook the breadcrumbs, stirring, until golden brown. Place half the breadcrumbs in the bottom of the ramekins, then two eggs in each dish, then top with the remaining breadcrumbs.

Place ramekins in a baking dish and pour boiling water to come halfway up the sides. Bake for 15 mins, or until whites are set, but yolks are still soft in the middle. Press the tops with your finger to check.

Mix sour cream with chives and dollop on top of the dishes, then sprinkle a few more chives on top. Serve with buttered toast and pass round a salt and pepper mill.

Serves 2

Variations: if you don’t have chives use finely chopped spring onion tops.

Pancake Stack with Roasted Vegetables

This colourful vegetarian dish was created when I had some pancakes which needed using up. You could probably use round wraps or soft tortillas instead of the pancakes.

I used one kind of vegetable for each layer, but if you’re in a hurry just roast all the vegetables mixed together.

1 medium sweet potato
3 large carrots
1 large red capsicum (pepper)
1 large onion
1 cup pitted black olives (optional)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 pancakes (crêpes) either bought or home-made
150g goat’s cheese or feta, crumbled
Pesto (either bought or home-made)
2/3 cup grated cheddar or parmesan

Choose a non-stick springform pan the same diameter as the pancakes. Preheat oven to 200°C. Slice all the vegetables into thick slices rather than the usual chunks, so they’re flatter. Mix each one with s little oil, salt and pepper, then spread them out in one layer, individually, on shallow baking trays lined with baking paper. Roast for 20-30 mins or until cooked and starting to brown.

You can line the bottom of the pan with baking paper, but I found it made cutting the finished dish more difficult as the paper got in the way, so next time I’ll leave it out. Spray cake pan with oil and place one pancake on the bottom. Arrange one vegetable over the pancake, dot with a few pieces of goat’s cheese or feta, drizzle with some pesto (add some oil if it’s too stiff), then top with another pancake and continue with the other vegetables, one for each layer. I put the olives in the onion layer. Finish with a pancake, sprinkle with cheddar or parmesan. Can be made ahead to this stage and kept in the fridge, covered.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Bake the pancake stack for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown on top and heated through. Serve in wedges with a green salad.

Serves 4-6

Variations: use other vegetables such as zucchini, parsnip, pumpkin, mushrooms, asparagus, corn etc. Add another layer or two if you like.