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 and refrigerate. 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.

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.

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.

Onion Quiche

Quiches can be made with a variety of fillings, but the best known is Quiche Lorraine, made with bacon, eggs and cream. It’s definitely the most popular in our house, closely followed by Onion Quiche.

Quiches can be frozen at any stage of the preparation. You can freeze the uncooked pastry, the uncooked quiche shell or the partly cooked quiche shell, with or without the filling poured in. While you can freeze a fully cooked quiche, I prefer to freeze them at the point where the filling has just been poured into the partly-baked pastry case. Place the quiche in the freezer until it has frozen completely, then wrap it in a plastic bag to stop the filling from sticking to the bag which would happen if you wrapped it before it had frozen.

When needed, put the quiche straight from the freezer into the oven and allow about 25% longer cooking time. Use a dish which can go straight from the freezer to the oven – most dishes are fine and you can of course make quiches in metal pans rather than ceramic. Baking the pastry case blind – before you add the filling – is the secret to avoiding a soggy bottom.

If you make two batches of the shortcrust pastry recipe below and divide it into 3 equal balls it will be just enough to make three large quiches. I usually do that and use one ball and freeze two for another time, wrapped in plastic wrap. If you only make one batch of pastry you will have enough for one large quiche with some leftover. You could use this to make some little tart cases. Cook them completely while empty, then fill with Lemon Curd or Raspberry Jam.

It’s always amazing to see how many onions go into this quiche – one whole kilo! Gently cooked for 45 minutes in butter and oil the onions produce one of my favourite quiche fillings from northern France.

Shortcrust Pastry:
250g plain flour
125g butter, cut into four
½ tsp salt
3-4 Tbs cold water
Filling:
1 kg onions, thinly sliced
50g butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs flour
2 eggs
¾ cup cream
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
60g grated cheese, preferably Gruyere or Emmental

Pastry: Place flour, salt and butter in food processor and process until it looks like breadcrumbs. With the motor running gradually add about 3 Tbs cold water through the feed chute, stopping the motor as soon as the mixture forms a ball. Tip out, form into a ball. While you only need one batch for this recipe you might like to make a second batch so you end up with two spare balls of pastry to use one day when you’re in a hurry. If you decide to do this, make a second batch of pastry, tip it out and make it into a large sausage shape with the first batch. Cut into three and wrap each third in plastic wrap. Refrigerate or freeze until needed. Can be refrigerated for 3-4 days or frozen for a month or two.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Roll out pastry and line quiche dish (mine is 25cm diameter and 3.5cm deep) then bake it blind. Don’t worry if you have to patch up a few holes, nobody will know when it’s cooked. To bake blind, line the pastry case with a piece of aluminium foil, pressing it down to fit, then tip in something to weigh it down and stop the pastry from rising in the middle. I use dried corn kernels which I keep in a jar and use over and over again. Dried beans or rice will also do the trick.

Bake the quiche shell for 5-10 mins, then remove the foil and corn and bake it for a few more minutes until very pale golden in colour.

Meanwhile for the filling heat butter and oil in a large heavy frying pan, add onions and cook very gently for about 45 minutes, or until tender and pale golden, stirring regularly. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes, then cool. Onions can be prepared to this stage ahead of time and kept refrigerated.

In a mixing bowl beat eggs with cream, add the cooled onions, salt, nutmeg and black pepper to taste and pour into pastry case. Can be frozen at this stage.

Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake for 45 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 6-8

Note: I have a slightly larger quiche dish which is 27-28 cm in diameter. If I use the bigger dish, to make more filling I just add two more eggs, making four in total.

 

Asparagus with Smoked Salmon, Poached Egg and Quick Hollandaise

Asparagus goes very well with smoked fish and with eggs. This recipe uses both and ties all the ingredients together with a delicious herby hollandaise sauce, which takes no time at all to make.

It’s best to be cautious on timing the first time you make the sauce. Microwave ovens vary and it may only need 10 or 12 seconds on High in yours.

10-12 spears asparagus
4 slices smoked salmon
2 large eggs
Quick Hollandaise Sauce:
2 egg yolks
3-4 tsp lemon juice
pinch of salt and cayenne pepper
60g butter, melted
1 Tbs chopped fresh tarragon (optional)
To garnish:
Pink peppercorns (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil

Trim and wash asparagus and place in a frying pan. Add cold water to cover, then turn on the heat, bring to the boil and cook for 3 minutes or until al dente. Drain on paper towels then arrange on two heated serving plates. Meanwhile poach the eggs and make the sauce.

Arrange a poached egg and two slices of smoked salmon on each serving of asparagus. Garnish with the sauce, a few pink peppercorns, if using and a drizzle of olive oil.

Quick Hollandaise Sauce: place egg yolks, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a heatproof bowl and whisk with a balloon whisk to combine. Whisk in the hot melted butter, then zap in the microwave for 14-15 seconds on High (no more or the egg yolks will scramble). Whisk vigorously to combine, add the tarragon and serve.

Serves 2

Three-Cheese Semolina Gnocchi with Gremolata

My friend Meg served this delicious starter over a year ago and at my request sent me the recipe. It’s taken me ages to get around to making it, as I always have a long list of recipes I want to try.

It originally appeared on Donna Hay’s website, but it’s not there any more. The original version serves 10-12 so I halved it to serve six as a starter. The recipe uses an Italian cheese called Taleggio in the gnocchi mix, but you could also use something stronger such as Gruyere or Cheddar.

750 ml milk
1 cup semolina
3 egg yolks
100g grated Taleggio cheese (or substitute Gruyere or strong cheddar)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of fresh marjoram
½ cup grated mozzarella
½ cup grated parmesan
Gremolata:
1 Tbs finely chopped parsley
2 tsp finely chopped fresh marjoram
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon rind (removed with veg peeler then shredded finely)
1 small clove garlic crushed

Place milk in a non-stick saucepan and bring to the boil. Gradually mix in the semolina, using a wooden spatula. Cook for 2-3 mins or until thickened then remove from the heat. Mix in the egg yolks, the cheese and season to taste. Scrape into a lightly greased square or rectangular dish. Mine is 20 cm square. Refrigerate for 2-3 hours or until firm.

Meanwhile make the gremolata by mixing all ingredients together in a bowl or a jar with a lid.

When ready to serve, turn on the grill. Cut the gnocchi into six evenly sized rectangles and place on an oven tray lined with baking paper, leaving some space between each one. Sprinkle with the marjoram, the mozzarella and the parmesan. Grill for 2-3 mins or until cheese is golden and melted. Arrange on 6 serving plates and top with the gremolata. Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil around the gnocchi.

Serves 6 as a starter

Variations: instead of taleggio you could use goat’s cheese. Instead of fresh marjoram you could use oregano or thyme

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto

It’s asparagus season again and our dedicated patch is producing a couple of kilos or more a week. It’s like nothing you ever see in the shops. So chunky and flavoursome. We eat most of it steamed, with melted butter, sometimes with fresh herbs mixed through. Or cold with home made mayonnaise.

I’m always on the look out for new ways to serve this wonderful vegetable, such as this delicious risotto.

50g butter
1 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
250ml white wine
2 litres chicken or vegetable stock
A large bunch of asparagus (20-24 stems)
1 cup Arborio rice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
To garnish:
6 thin slices prosciutto
Extra virgin olive oil (optional)

Place half the butter and oil in a heavy-based pan over low heat. Add the onion and cook very gently for 15 minutes, stirring from time to time, until cooked but not coloured. Meanwhile trim off the tough ends from the asparagus. Choose 12 nice stems and trim them a bit shorter. Blanch them for 3 minutes in boiling salted water then refresh in cold water and dry on paper towels.

Cut the rest of the asparagus into bite sized pieces. When the onion is cooked add the wine, rice and chopped asparagus and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes. Gradually add the stock, a cup or so at a time, adding more as it’s absorbed into the rice. When the rice is al dente (you may not need all the stock) add half the grated parmesan and the remaining butter and turn off the heat. The risotto should be slightly wet. Season to taste then cover and stand for 5 minutes.

Serve on six individual serving plates and top with remaining parmesan. Garnish each plate with two of the blanched asparagus spears, a slice of prosciutto and, if liked, a drizzle of oil.

Serves 6 as a starter or 3 as a main

Chorizo Stuffed Chicken Roll with White Bean Salad

A boned and stuffed whole chicken makes a great centrepiece for a buffet table. I’ve done it once, or maybe twice. But it’s not a five minute job. This quick and easy recipe from Spanish-born Australian chef Miguel Maestre achieves the same flavour profile with far less effort.

5 large chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
2 chorizo sausages
About 8 thin slices of jamon serrano or prosciutto
Salad:
1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 small red chilli, seeds removed and finely diced (optional)
1 French shallot, finely diced
3 Tbs finely chopped chives
2 Tbs finely chopped black olives
3 Tbs roughly chopped coriander
2 Tbs mayonnaise
1 Tbs olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra herbs for garnish
Balsamic glaze

Preheat oven to 200°C. Remove skin from chorizo and chop very finely in food processor.  On a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper, arrange the jamon, slightly overlapping, in a rectangle about 30cm wide and the height of the slices. Trim chicken pieces and gently hammer out any which are a bit too thick, so they are more even. Lay chicken on top of the jamon, leaving no gaps, like a jigsaw puzzle.

Place the pureed chorizo down the middle of the chicken. Using the baking paper to assist, roll the chicken over itself and form into a tight cylinder. Place the baking paper back down on the tray and arrange the chicken roll on top with the seam underneath. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until juices run clear when pierced with a skewer.

In a bowl place all the ingredients for the salad. Mix and season to taste.

Serve the chicken warm or at room temperature, thickly sliced, surrounded by the salad and garnished with the extra herbs. If serving cold, garnish with some balsamic glaze.

Serves 6-8