Eton Mess

Looking for a quick and easy dessert to serve over the Canberra Day long weekend? Eton Mess, a traditional English dessert which makes the most of the summer berries is quick, easy and delicious.

A mixture of meringue, berries and whipped cream, this dish was first mentioned in print in 1893 and is thought to have originated at Eton College in England, where it’s served at the annual cricket match against Harrow School.

In the 6th episode of the TV series The Gilded Age, which I’m currently watching, the French chef is asked to prepare a British meal. For dessert he makes Eton Mess, which he describes disparagingly as a mess made by a bunch of schoolboys.

The traditional recipe for this sumptuous dessert uses broken up meringues, either home-made or shop bought. I prefer to use a pavlova base, because the meringue is crunchy on the outside, but soft and marshmallowy on the inside. In Australia pavlova bases are sold in most big supermarkets.  I’m not sure if they are available in other countries, except perhaps New Zealand, but you can always make your own or use broken up hard meringues, which are more readily available around the world.

I like to use half fresh cream and half sour cream or crème fraîche, but if preferred you can use all fresh cream.

1 pavlova base to serve 12 (or about 12 large individual meringues)
250 ml whipping cream
250 ml sour cream or crème fraîche
1 Tbs icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
500g strawberries
2-3 tsp caster sugar
150-200g raspberries (or blueberries, blackberries, blackcurrants etc)
Chocolate sprinkles (optional)

Wash strawberries, cut in half or slice if large and place in a bowl with the caster sugar. Mix and leave aside for an hour or two, so the juices start to run.

I used about three-quarters of a large pavlova base for this dish. Break off chunks and arrange about half of them in a large glass serving dish, or break up the hard meringues. If preferred, make individual servings using large whisky tumblers.

Scatter half the strawberries and half the raspberries or other berries over the meringue. Place the cream, sour cream, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl and whip using electric beaters until soft peaks form. Place blobs of the whipped cream over the meringue and fruit, then the rest of the pavlova/meringue pieces, the juices from the strawberries, the remaining cream and lastly the rest of the strawberries and raspberries. They are not shown in the photo, but if liked decorate the top with some chocolate sprinkles, which always look nice with berries and cream. Refrigerate until serving time and serve within a couple of hours.

Serves 6-8

Note: if liked, add a tablespoonful of a liqueur such as Kirsch, Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Curaçao to the strawberries and sugar.

 

 

Strawberry No Bake Cheesecake

This recipe is adapted from one called Narrabri Cheesecake which Matthew used to make before we met. Part of his bachelor repertoire, guaranteed to impress the girls. It’s quite rich and you will get at least twelve servings, enough to serve a crowd.

Crust:
150g plain sweet biscuits e.g. Digestives, Nice, Marie
100g butter, melted
Filling:
300ml whipping cream
750g cream cheese, at room temperature
1 can condensed milk
1/3 cup lemon juice
Grated rind of one large lemon or two smaller ones
Topping:
250g strawberries, halved
Strawberry Sauce:
250g strawberries, diced
1-2 Tbs sugar, to taste
1 Tbs lemon juice

Butter a 22-24 cm (9-10 inch) springform cake pan and line the bottom with a circle of baking paper. Whizz the biscuits in a food processor until you have fine crumbs. Mix with the melted butter, then press evenly over the base of the cake pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling.

Using a stand mixer (my preference with this recipe) or hand beaters, whip the cream until soft peaks form. Scrape out into another bowl. No need to wash the first bowl – just add the cream cheese and mix until smooth. Add the condensed milk and lastly the lemon juice and rind. Use a spatula to scrape down the mixture stuck to the sides of the bowl, then mix a bit more. Fold through the whipped cream, scrape into the cake pan and smooth the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Clean and sort the strawberries, keeping the best ones to decorate and the rest for the sauce.

Strawberry Sauce: place all ingredients in a saucepan. Simmer for about 5-10 minutes then push through a sieve, discarding what won’t go through. Keep refrigerated.

Arrange halved strawberries over the top of the cheesecake. Run a knife with a thin blade around the sides of the cheesecake, undo the clip and remove. If you like, run a knife under the base of the cheesecake, under the paper, so you can remove the base. If preferred, just leave the base on. Slice cheesecake using a large knife dipped in hot water. Serve sauce (not shown in photo) separately in a small jug.

Serves  12-16

Variations: use other berries.

 

Tomato Tarte Tatin with Goat’s Cheese

Many readers will be familiar with the delicious French apple tart called Tarte Tatin. Caramelised apples covered with pastry, cooked until golden and crisp and then inverted onto a serving plate.

This is a tomato version which is perfect to make when you have, as we do at the moment, heaps of cocktail tomatoes in the garden.

About 375g puff pastry
2-3 Tbs balsamic glaze
1 Tbs caster sugar
3 Tbs fresh thyme leaves, plus a few sprigs to garnish
About 500g cocktail tomatoes (enough to cover base of the pan)
To serve:
Rocket, toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan salad
Crumbled goat cheese
Sun-dried Tomato Pesto:
¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
¼ cup fresh basil leaves
1 Tbs (a 5cm or 2″ chunk) Parmesan cheese

Make the pesto by blitzing all the ingredients together to form a nice chunky paste. Preheat the oven to 180°C.

Cut a circle of baking paper to fit the bottom of a 20cm (8 inch) tart tin. Drizzle the balsamic glaze over the paper, then sprinkle with the sugar and thyme leaves. Arrange the tomatoes over the base – they should cover it completely and snugly. Dollop the tomato pesto all over the tomatoes, as evenly as you can. Roll out the pastry, cut a circle 25cm (10 inches) in diameter. Place on top of the tomatoes and tuck in the edges.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until pastry is puffed and golden brown. Let the tart rest for 5-10 minutes then carefully invert onto a serving plate and remove the paper. Serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with crumbled goat cheese and thyme sprigs, with a lightly-dressed salad of rocket, toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan.

Serves 6

Melon, Buffalo Mozzarella and Prawn Salad

I’ve tweaked this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi and added prawns, which aren’t in his original version. The result is a light and healthy salad which will serve four as a starter or two as a main.

You may have noticed that I use this serving dish a lot. It’s one of my favourites from a pottery called Bison, located just outside Canberra in Pialligo.

½ small red onion, thinly sliced
Grated rind and juice of ½ lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
250g peeled large cooked prawns (weight before peeling about 500g)
3-4 cups mixed salad greens (lettuce, rocket etc)
2-3 cups melon balls or cubes (rockmelon or watermelon or a mix)
1 avocado, peeled and cut into 8 wedges
1 whole ball Buffalo Mozzarella (100-150g) cut or torn into bite sized pieces
1 Tbs buckwheat groats (optional)
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 Tbs fresh coriander leaves
3-4 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Mix onion with lemon rind and juice. Halve the peeled prawns horizontally. If prawns are small leave them whole. Add them to the onion with a pinch of salt and mix.

Arrange salad leaves in a shallow salad bowl. Arrange the melon balls, avocado and mozzarella on top. Arrange the prawns and onions over the salad and drizzle with the lemon juice. Place the buckwheat groats in a dry frying pan over moderate heat and cook, stirring, until lightly toasted.

Garnish the salad with the buckwheat, mustard seeds, coriander leaves and a generous drizzle of olive oil.

Serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main

 

Chinese Sesame Noodles with Eggplant

These Chinese Sesame Noodles with Eggplant always leave me thinking that if I had to be a vegetarian, this is one of the dishes I would make often. Some vegetarian dishes are satisfying and others just don’t hit the spot.

The original version came from Australian cook Belinda Jeffery, cooking presenter on the TV show Better Homes and Gardens for many years. I’ve been making it for over 20 years and yes I’ve tweaked it slightly (I know, I’m incorrigible) and added the optional pine nuts which were suggested by Matthew.

Served at room temperature it’s perfect for a shared buffet or as a light family dinner. Also great for lunch boxes.

This week’s recipe is especially for Moya and John and my brother David.

2 large eggplants, cut into 1cm thick slices
3 spring onions, sliced finely on the diagonal
125g bean sprouts
A good handful chopped fresh coriander
450g fresh noodles (Hokkien or Singapore)
Lightly toasted pine nuts to garnish (optional)
Basting mixture:
2 Tbs sesame oil
2 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (with or without seeds, up to you)
2 tsp finely chopped or grated fresh ginger (I tend to use more, like double!)
1 large clove garlic crushed

Cook noodles according to packet directions and drain. Preheat oven to 200°C. Mix basting ingredients. Arrange eggplants on two large shallow baking trays lined with baking paper. Brush both sides with the basting mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tender, brushing them again about halfway through the cooking time.

When eggplant is cool enough to handle cut into quarters, halves or thick slices and mix with remaining basting mixture. In a large shallow serving dish mix the eggplants with the noodles, bean sprouts, spring onions and coriander, keeping a little for decoration. Taste and add some extra olive oil or soy sauce, if necessary. Garnish with the reserved coriander and a few toasted pine nuts (optional, but they do add a nice bit of crunch) and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4

Watermelon Sorbet with Olive Oil & Maldon Sea Salt

This recipe is easy to make and never fails to impress. Serve it in shot glasses as a palate cleanser between courses or a very light starter. The combination of sweet watermelon sorbet, fruity olive oil and salt flakes is amazing.

2 cups water
1 cup sugar
1½ kg watermelon, rind removed, cubed
Juice of half a lemon (or more, to taste)
1 egg white
To serve:
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt flakes

Place water and sugar in a medium saucepan and heat, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved.  Bring to the boil and boil for 5 minutes.  Cool.  Puree the watermelon cubes in a food processor.  Push through a fine sieve, pressing hard on the solids.  You should have at least 600ml juice.

Add syrup and lemon juice to watermelon juice and mix well.  Tip into a shallow plastic container and freeze for 4-5 hours, covered, or until almost solid.  Scrape sorbet into a food processor, add the egg white and process until smooth.  Return to the plastic container, cover and freeze again.

Serve a scoop or two per person in a shot glass.  Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle with a few salt flakes.

Serves lots and keeps for up to a month in the freezer

Plum and Rum Jam made in the Oven

My German friend Rosi gave me the recipe for a delicious plum jam which is made in the oven with far less sugar than most jam recipes use and is flavoured with rum and cinnamon.

While you can use any plums in this recipe, blood plums produce a beautiful deep ruby-red colour and I found some in Aldi. Serve the jam with croissants, or plain thick Greek yoghurt. I haven’t tried  making it with other fruits, but plan to. I am sure it will work. Next on the list to try is rhubarb and strawberry, fifty fifty.

1½ kg plums, stoned and quartered
500g sugar
1½ cups dark rum
1 stick cinnamon (optional)

Preheat oven to 200°C or 180°C if you have a fan-forced oven. Place all ingredients in a Le Creuset type heavy casserole with lid and stir to combine. Cook for 2 to 2½ hours, stirring every half hour.

Heat jars without lids in microwave on High for 2 minutes. Pour hot jam into the hot jars filling to about 1cm below the top (discard cinnamon stick) and seal with the lids immediately.

Jam keeps for several months, unopened. Once opened keep in the fridge.

Makes about 4 jars

Individual Tiramisus

Keeping the weight off becomes a constant battle for most people over the age of forty. Some have to pay attention much earlier and a few lucky ones never have to think about it.

Unless we’re entertaining, I rarely make desserts. Every now and then, however, I think what the hell, life’s too short, especially during this Covid pandemic, when we’re entertaining and going out far less.

When I think we deserve a treat I make individual desserts in small glasses and put them in the fridge for us to eat over a few days. These small indulgences are not so big as to make you feel guilty, but when you feel like something sweet they just hit the spot.

I often think of my Irish grandmother who said to me after Grandpa died at the age of 62 “I didn’t let him have all those English puddings he loved and he died young anyway.” Actually I think it was the smoking rather than the weight that did it. Or maybe a combination of the two.

I have several quick and easy desserts I make in these small glasses and this is one of them. Any plain chocolate biscuits will do. Buy ones which are made with a chocolate mix, such as Arnott’s Chocolate Ripple, not ones which are iced with chocolate. If in doubt Google Arnott’s Chocolate Ripple so you can see what they look like and find something similar.

8 (or 12) un-iced chocolate biscuits, eg Arnott’s Chocolate Ripple
1 cup strong coffee (see note below)
2 Tbs brandy or rum (optional)
1½ cups cream
½ cup cream cheese or mascarpone, at room temp
2 Tbs icing sugar
Cocoa powder

Find 8 small glasses or ramekins which each hold about half a cup or 125ml.

Mix coffee and brandy or rum. Dip biscuits in this mixture to thoroughly soak and put one, or one and a half in each glass. Divide any leftover coffee amongst glasses, drizzling it over the biscuits.

Whip cream and when it holds soft peaks add cream cheese or mascarpone and mix to combine, then add the icing sugar. Divide amongst the glasses, pushing it under and around the biscuits. It doesn’t matter if they break up. Smooth the tops, then cover with sifted cocoa. Refrigerate, loosely covered. I put them in one large dish and cover it with a shower cap.

Makes 8 individual desserts

Note: use brewed coffee, cooled, or a cup of boiling water mixed with a heaped tablespoon of instant coffee, cooled. You could leave out the cream cheese or mascarpone and use more cream.

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Crust

This recipe was given to me by my friend Barbara and I’ve made it twice over the holiday period. I’ve added a little dressing to the salad and served the chicken sliced on top, rather than mixed through the salad.

1 cup roasted peanuts
¼ cup red curry paste
1 cup coriander leaves, loosely packed
1/3 cup coconut milk
700g to 1kg chicken breasts
Salt to taste (if using salted peanuts you can leave it out)
Salad:
1 or 2 cucumbers depending on size (400g)
1 cup bean sprouts
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
Dressing:
1 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garnish:
Thinly sliced red chilli (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place peanuts, curry paste, coriander and coconut milk in food processor and process to form a slightly chunky paste. Spread on both sides of the chicken breasts and arrange on a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cooked through – test with a knife.

Halve cucumbers lengthwise and remove seeds with a small teaspoon, then slice. Mix salad ingredients with dressing and arrange on serving plate. Slice chicken and arrange on top. Garnish with the chilli.

Serves 4-6

Substitutions: use cashews instead of peanuts. Any curry paste will do.

Lobster & Mango Salad with Thai Dressing

This salad is perfect for a New Year’s Eve buffet. I’ve been making it for about 20 years and it’s always a hit. One of my top ten cold recipes.  If preferred, use peeled prawns instead of lobster as I have in the photo. You will need a kilo of prawns to end up with half a kilo once they are peeled. Serve on individual plates as a starter or on one large platter as part of a buffet.

500g cooked lobster (crayfish) meat, or cooked shelled prawns
2 slightly underripe mangoes, skinned, sliced and cut into julienne sticks
1 med red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1 bunch spring onions, white & some of the green, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 bunch coriander, leaves picked off (keep the stalks for the dressing)
A handful of basil leaves, picked off and torn in half if large
60g baby spinach
1 cup beansprouts
Dressing:
¾ cup lime juice
80g palm sugar or brown sugar
1 stalk lemongrass, white part only
Stalks from 1 bunch of coriander
2 Tbs Fish sauce
Garnish:
¾ cup unsalted cashews
Extra Virgin olive oil

Make dressing: Heat lime juice in a small saucepan with palm sugar and stir to dissolve. Place in food processor with remaining ingredients. Process till fairly smooth, then tip into a jar with a lid. Can be made ahead and refrigerated.

Slice lobster meat into large chunky pieces. If using prawns just peel, devein and leave whole. Mix with a little of the dressing and the chilli and refrigerate till serving time. Toast cashews in a dry pan, over medium heat. Wash spinach, basil, beansprouts and coriander. Dry in a salad spinner then refrigerate in the spinner. Prepare mango and spring onions and refrigerate, separately. All ingredients can be prepared well ahead.

To serve, mix spinach, coriander leaves, basil leaves, beansprouts and spring onions with enough dressing to moisten. Divide between six individual plates or pile into one large serving dish. Arrange the lobster or prawns on top and garnish with the mango and cashews. Drizzle with extra dressing if liked. You may not need all the mango, depending on the size of the mangoes you use. Drizzle a little olive oil around the salad.

Serves 6 as a starter or light lunch, 4 as a main course or 10 to 12 as part of a buffet

Notes: if you don’t have lemongrass use a couple of strips of lemon or lime peel, removed with a potato peeler. If you don’t have unsalted cashews, salted ones will do. If you don’t have lime juice use lemon juice.