Roasted Brussels Sprouts & Shallots with Grapefruit

Adapted from one by Yotam Ottolenghi for Brussels Sprouts with Pomelo, this recipe may sound like a weird combination, but it works. He uses 100g of sugar, which I’ve swapped for a tablespoonful of honey because we found it too sweet.

Pomelo is a citrus fruit which looks like a large grapefruit with one pointy end. Like grapefruit, pomelos come in yellow or pink varieties and are interchangeable in recipes.

Asians love them and when we lived in Malaysia the locals looked forward to each new season and cleared the shelves. Asians who have moved to live in Australia also look forward to the arrival of the new crop of pomelos. I’ve tried them a couple of times and decided that they are overrated. I’d sooner have a grapefruit as they are available all year round and considerably cheaper.

500-600g Brussels sprouts, trimmed
250g shallots, or small onions, peeled
3 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large grapefruit
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs water
1 Tbs honey
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick, broken
3-4 Tbs chopped coriander or parsley to garnish

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Place the sprouts and shallots in a saucepan. Cover with water, bring to the boil, then drain thoroughly. Cut the sprouts in half vertically and the shallots in halve horizontally. If using onions cut them into quarters. Mix the sprouts and shallots or onions with 2 Tbs of the oil, salt and pepper, then spread out on a baking sheet lined with baking paper and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until everything is golden brown.

Meanwhile peel the grapefruit and remove the segments. Remove the membrane and any seeds and cut each segment into 3 pieces. As you cut up the grapefruit keep any juice. Heat the lemon juice, water, honey, spices and any juice from the grapefruit in a small frying pan for 2-3 minutes, until you have a sticky syrup. Turn off the heat, add the grapefruit, stir gently to coat each piece, then leave to cool.

When the sprouts and shallots are cooked, gently mix in the grapefruit and syrup, discarding the spices. Tip into a serving dish, drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of oil and top with coriander or parsley.

Serves 4-6

French Onion Soup

In the early 1970s I was posted by the Foreign Office to work at the British Mission to the UN in Geneva for 3 years.

A large number of ski resorts are located less than an hour and a half’s drive from Geneva, in the French Alps. Every Sunday morning in winter a gang of us from work would clamber aboard one of the buses which left from the main railway station. At six thirty sharp the bus would head off to a different ski station each week. It was still dark and most of us caught up on sleep on the way.

By nine o’clock, when the ski lifts opened, we were all geared up with our rented skis and boots and ready to hit the slopes. The ski club which organised these expeditions had a number of excellent instructors. On arrival at our destination we separated into 3 groups: beginners, intermediates and advanced. Some lied about their ability in order to get the better-looking instructors. It was great value with the bus and the full day lesson all included in the price.

At lunch time we met at a nominated bistro and queued up for one of the hot self-service meals. An early start and all that physical exercise meant we were ravenous. Hearty soups, pizzas, toasted cheese sandwiches and French fries, with or without steak, were all popular ways of replenishing the energy we’d expended in the morning. My favourite was the French Onion Soup. Hot spiced wine and hot chocolate were amongst the preferred beverages.

It took me a few goes to get this soup right. Making it a day or two in advance really improves the flavour.

1½ kilos onions, peeled and thinly sliced
60g butter and 1 Tbs oil
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs flour
2 litres beef or chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs dry sherry or brandy
12-16 slices French bread sliced 2 cm thick (or 6-8 larger slices of bread)
300g coarsely grated Gruyere or other Swiss cheese

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook onions in butter and oil over low heat, stirring often and with a lid for about 15 mins, or until soft. Add sugar and salt and raise the heat to moderate. Cook for 30-40 mins, stirring often, or until deep golden brown. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Add stock and wine slowly, stirring. Simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes, stirring from time to time. Cool then refrigerate until ready to serve. Can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Reheat soup, adding sherry or brandy and salt and pepper to taste. Cover bread slices with grated cheese and grill until golden and cheese is bubbling. Ladle soup into 6-8 bowls and place one or two slices of the cheesy toast on each serving. This soup is best made a day or two before serving.

Serves 6-8

Minestrone

This traditional Italian soup is perfect for lunch or a light dinner in the cooler months of the year. Make a big pot at the weekend and serve it for lunch or dinner a couple of times through the week, or take some to work to reheat in the microwave.

There are as many recipes for minestrone as there are for bolognese sauce, so to a certain extent you can just use what you have on hand. Onion, garlic, carrot, tomato and celery are the basic essentials, while the other vegetables are mostly optional. If you have it in the fridge add it, but don’t make a special trip to the shops just to buy one zucchini or one potato.

In the minestrone I made for the photo I didn’t add any potato, zucchini, leek or spinach/cabbage. I did add frozen peas and the kernels from a cob of fresh corn which needed using up. The spiral pasta is bigger than the size I usually use in minestrone, but it’s what I had in the pantry. Vegetarians can just leave out the bacon.

Served topped with grated Parmesan and some crusty bread or toast, it’s guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart, as my Irish grandmother used to say. In other words, it will give you a warm fuzzy feeling.

2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 onions, peeled and diced
1 leek, trimmed and diced (optional)
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 rashers bacon, diced (optional)
Kernels from 1 cob corn, or one zucchini, diced
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups shredded spinach or cabbage
1 large potato, peeled and diced (optional)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
1 can cannellini beans, drained (or another bean)
2 x 400g cans tomatoes, whizzed in food processor
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs sherry (optional)
2 litres chicken or vegetable stock (or water + 2 stock cubes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 tsp sugar
200-250g small pasta
To serve:
Grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan, then add bacon and the diced vegetables, but not the frozen peas and spinach/cabbage. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are al dente.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil, then simmer until the pasta is cooked. Add more water as required and check for seasoning.

Serve the soup topped with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley, with fresh bread or toast.

Keeps in the fridge for 4-5 days and improves in flavour. Add water as necessary on reheating, if the soup appears to be too thick.

About 8 servings

Beef and Chestnut Casserole

When I was growing up in England in the 60s my mother regularly made a beef and chestnut casserole in winter, which we all loved.

She found the recipe on the back of an Oxo beef stock cube packet. Apart from beef, chestnuts and Oxo cubes I remember she added sherry or red wine, but I didn’t have the recipe. A couple of years ago I contacted the makers or Oxo cubes to see if they could help, but they couldn’t.

I decided to have a go at recreating this dish and here is the result. Simple but delicious. Served with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable it’s perfect for a winter gathering.

1.2kg lean beef (chuck steak, gravy beef) cut into 2cm cubes
2 Tbs plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 Tbs olive oil
2 large brown onions, chopped
2 beef Oxo cubes, crumbled (or use another brand)
1 cup dry sherry or red wine
1 Tbs fresh thyme leaves or 1 tsp dried
2-3 carrots, sliced (optional)
2-3 cups water
400g peeled chestnuts (see note below)
Chopped parsley to garnish

Mix beef with seasoned flour to coat thoroughly. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a large non-stick frying pan and brown the meat on both sides. Remove to a large casserole dish with a lid. Repeat with remaining beef and another Tbs of oil. Add to the casserole. Add the last Tbs oil to the frying pan and cook the onions, stirring often, until softened but not browned. Add to the casserole with the sherry or red wine, thyme, and carrots If using.

If you use fresh uncooked chestnuts you have peeled yourself add them now. If using cooked ones add them later.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Mix  2 cups of water into the casserole and bake for 2-3 hours or until meat is tender. Check and stir every hour or so and add more water if necessary. You want the casserole to be nice and thick. If using cooked chestnuts add them about half an hour before the casserole is ready.

If preferred, cook the casserole in a slow cooker for about 4 hours on High or 8 hours on Low. If using this method you will definitely need less water than when using an oven.

I like to make casseroles the day before serving as it improves the flavour. Reheat on the day with the addition of a little more water, if required.

Garnish with chopped parsley and serve with mashed potatoes (with lots of butter added) and a green vegetable.

Serve 6-8

Note: fresh chestnuts are fiddly to peel so I bought two 200g packets of peeled, cooked whole chestnuts made by a company called Cheznuts. At $12 a packet they’re not cheap but they were certainly convenient.

 

Kaiserschmarm

This torn apple pancake is an Austrian speciality. The name translates as “Emperor’s mess”  after the Emperor Franz Josef, who apparently liked it so much he ate his wife’s serving too.

I first tried this on a skiing holiday in Kitzbuhel in Austria, many moons ago. I couldn’t remember the name, so it’s taken me until now to find a recipe. My first attempt was out of balance, with too much pancake and not enough apple for my taste, so I’ve adjusted the proportions. After a bit more research I found some recipes include raisins soaked in rum and so I’ve added them to the recipe as an optional extra.

75g butter
4 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
3 large eggs, separated into two large bowls
2 Tbs sugar (to taste)
1 cup plain flour
Pinch salt
1 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
4 Tbs raisins soaked for an hour in 3 Tbs Rum (optional)
Icing sugar to serve

Heat 25g butter in a medium to large non-stick frying pan (25-30cm) and cook the apples, stirring, until softening and starting to colour. Add the soaked raisins, if using, then tip out into a bowl and wipe out the pan. With electric beaters, whip egg whites until soft peaks form, then add the sugar and continue to whip until you have a thick, glossy meringue.

Using the electric beaters, gradually add the sifted flour, salt, milk and vanilla to the bowl containing the egg yolks. The beaters need to be clean for the egg whites, but  there’s no need to wash them before you do the egg yolk mixture. Using a spatula, gradually fold the meringue into the egg yolk mixture.

Heat 25g butter in the frying pan. Tip in the pancake mixture and cook for 3 minutes, or until the base is golden, then turn over and cook the other side. It’s not easy to turn a large pancake, so an easy solution is to cut it into four while it’s in the pan and turn each quarter separately. Don’t worry if it breaks a bit.

When golden on both sides, tip pancake onto a plate and using two forks tear it into bite-size pieces. Wipe out the pan and put it back on the heat with the remaining 25g butter. Add the pancake pieces. Cook, stirring, until golden, then add the apples and raisins and cook for another 2 minutes, stirring. Divide between 4 serving plates and dust with sifted icing sugar.

Serves 4

 

French Onion Soup

When our kids were 5, 8 and 11 we took long service leave, rented a chalet in the French Alps and skied for three months.

Timewise it fitted in perfectly between a posting in Malaysia and a posting in South Africa. We bought a car in London after spending Xmas with my family and drove over, packed to the gunnels with ski gear. Our chalet was on the outskirts of Megève – large and comfortable with an open fire.

The kids had left school in Kuala Lumpur just before Christmas and  were due to start in Pretoria after Easter. We were worried they might get behind, but two adults playing schools with three children for a couple of hours each day meant they got ahead.

They had never been on skis, but by the time we left, they skied like demons, leaving us behind. When we were snowed in for a few days we played Monopoly, Scrabble and Mastermind. When large blocks of ice fell off the roof the kids built an igloo, with a little help from Matthew. We went ice skating and watched the annual husky dog races. Everyone has fond memories of that holiday.

Five year old David fell in love with snails. When we were back in Australia later that year he asked the waiter in a Pizza Hut “Do you have escargots?”  The waiter, looking somewhat puzzled, said: “What mate? We’ve got pizzas and salads here mate.”

Most days we had lunch in the chalet: deux baguettes with a selection of cheeses, cold meats and patés. Occasionally we stopped for lunch on the ski slopes, where onion soup was invariably on the menu.

1½ kilos onions, halved then thinly sliced
60g butter and 1 Tbs oil
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs flour
2 litres beef or chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
12-16 slices French bread sliced 2 cm thick
300g coarsely grated Gruyere or Emmental cheese
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 Tbs dry sherry or brandy

In a large saucepan, cook onions in butter and oil over low heat, stirring often and with a lid for about 15 mins, or until soft. Best to use a heavy-bottomed non-stick pan as there is a tendency to stick with this recipe.

Add sugar and salt and raise the heat to moderate. Cook for 30-40 mins, stirring often, or until deep golden brown. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 3 minutes. Add stock and wine slowly, stirring. Simmer, covered for 30-40 minutes. Cool then refrigerate until ready to serve – preferably overnight. Reheat, add sherry or brandy and salt and pepper to taste.

Top bread slices with grated cheese and grill until golden and cheese is bubbling. Ladle soup into bowls and place one or two slices of bread on each serving.

Serves 6-8

Pumpkin Soup with Caramelised Pumpkin Seeds

It’s often the garnishes which make Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipes unique. This soup, with its unusual crunchy topping of caramelised pumpkin seeds, is no exception.

They can be used to garnish any soup and are a delicious addition to salads, so you might like to double or triple the recipe. They keep for a couple of weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.

Ottolenghi cooks the seeds in the oven, but I prefer to use a frying pan where I think you have more control. I have a bad track record of burning nuts and seeds in the oven.

You need about 750g of vegetables which can be all pumpkin, all carrot, or a combination of the two.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
550g pumpkin, cut into 2cm cubes
2 medium carrots, sliced
1 tsp saffron fronds or a pinch of saffron powder
1 litre vegetable stock
2 tsp grated orange zest
6 Tbs sour cream or crème fraîche
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
For the pumpkin seeds:
1 tbsp sunflower oil
60g pumpkin seeds
1 Tbs maple syrup or honey
½ Tbs soft brown sugar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Put the pumpkin seeds into a non-stick frying pan with the other ingredients. Stir over moderate heat for a few minutes, or until starting to colour. Cool. If they stick together it doesn’t matter as you can break them apart when serving.

Heat the oil in a heavy-based saucepan, add the onion then cook over high heat for a minute or so, stirring all the time. Reduce heat to low and cook for 10-12 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden brown, but not very dark. Add the pumpkin, carrot, saffron, stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, until pumpkin and carrots are almost tender. Add the orange zest and simmer for five minutes longer. When vegetables are thoroughly cooked, blitz the soup in a food processor or blender, or with a stick blender. Add extra water or stock if it is too thick. Season to taste.

Serve in soup bowls with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the caramelised seeds.

Serves 4

Smoked Haddock Chowder

Inspired by a recent trip to the West of Scotland I decided to make my version of a soup they call Cullen Skink. Doesn’t sound very appetising does it? Well Cullen Skink is the Scottish name for Smoked Haddock Chowder, a chunky, hearty soup made from smoked haddock, known locally as Finnan Haddie and it’s delicious, despite the name! I read through half a dozen different recipes online and came up with this.

If you can’t find smoked haddock, use smoked cod and if you can’t find either why not experiment with hot smoked salmon? It will only need to be gently heated through as it’s already cooked.

50g butter
2 leeks, chopped (use mostly the white part and a tiny bit of green)
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunky cubes
Vegetable stock
1 cup cream
500g smoked haddock or cod, skinned and cut into 2 cm chunks
3 Tbs dry sherry (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Chopped parsley
Crusty bread

In a large heavy-based pan melt butter and cook leeks gently for 10 minutes or until soft. Add potatoes and enough stock to just cover them. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add cream, fish and sherry and cook for a few minutes until the fish is done. Test by taking a piece out. You don’t want the fish to disintegrate and it won’t take long to cook. Season with salt and pepper and add a dash more stock or cream if the soup is too thick.

Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread.

Serves 4-6

Lemon Delicious Pudding

This popular Australian and New Zealand dessert was in the repertoire of all grannies and mothers in law when I got married and moved to Canberra from the UK in the 1970s. As it bakes, the pudding separates, leaving a light sponge on top and a delicious lemon sauce underneath. Many Canberrans have a lemon tree in their garden making this an ideal winter dessert.

4 eggs
50g butter at room temp
1 cup sugar
Grated rind of 1 lemon
1 cup self-raising flour, sifted
1 cup milk
2/3 cup lemon juice
To serve:
Icing sugar
Thick pouring cream

Preheat oven to 180°C. Separate eggs and place yolks in the food processor with ¾ cup of the sugar and the remaining ingredients. Mix until combined, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Place the whites in a bowl and whip with electric beaters until soft peaks form. Add remaining ¼ cup sugar and continue beating until you have a shiny meringue.

Scrape the mixture from the food processor into the meringue and fold it all together, gently but thoroughly, with a spatula. Tip mixture into a buttered pie dish or individual ramekins, place in a roasting pan or large dish and add boiling water to come halfway up the pudding dish. Bake for 35 minutes, or until just set and golden. Individual puddings will take less time than one big dish. Don’t overcook or the lemon sauce will be absorbed into the topping and disappear.

Dust with icing sugar and serve warm with cream.

Serves 6

Roast Sweet Potatoes, Pears and Chick Peas with Prosciutto

Regular Café Cat readers will know that I’m a great fan of roast vegetables and love trying new combinations. This dish using sweet potatoes and pears, combined with chick peas and topped with crispy prosciutto is a real winner.

Roast Sweet Potatoes, Pears and Chick Peas with Prosciutto

1 large or two smaller sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large thick wedges
3 large pears, unpeeled and cut into six or eight, lengthwise then cored
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
About ¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
100g thinly sliced prosciutto (I used Aldi Black Forest Ham)

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Place all ingredients except prosciutto in a large bowl and mix well. Line a large shallow baking tray with baking paper then spread the vegetables over the tray in one layer. The paper is to make washing up easier but is optional. Bake vegetables for about half an hour or until cooked and starting to brown around the edges. Re-arrange them halfway through cooking time, so they cook more evenly.

In a non-stick frying pan put a tiny bit of oil then cook the prosciutto until crispy. Serve on top of the vegetables.

Serves 3-4

Variations: use pumpkin instead of sweet potato, apples instead of pears, thinly sliced bacon instead of Prosciutto. To make the dish more substantial serve it on a bed of lightly dressed rocket and scatter some crumbled feta or goat’s cheese over the top. Vegetarians can just leave out the prosciutto.