Grilled Prawns with Cauliflower & Miso Dressing

Our friend Meg served this delicious prawn and cauliflower starter from Aussie chef Matt Moran recently. The recipe makes six starters, or  make half as a light and healthy mid-week dinner for two.

½ cauliflower cut into florets (about 300g)
2 Tbs vegetable oil
18 green jumbo prawns peeled and deveined, tail on
100g butter
100g baby spinach
S and P
¼ green apple finely sliced vertically, then julienned, so you have peel each end
50g sliced almonds, toasted
Baby or regular coriander
Cauliflower purée: 
40g butter
The rest of the cauliflower (about 300g) chopped small
½ cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
White Miso Dressing:
100g white miso
½ small golden shallot, very finely chopped
1cm piece ginger, very finely chopped
½ small hot red chilli, very finely chopped
1½ Tbs lemon juice
1 Tbs mirin
1 tsp rice wine
2 tsp tahini
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs caster sugar
5 tsp veg oil
75 ml water

Puree: heat butter in frying pan, add cauliflower, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 10-15 mins or till very soft but not coloured. Add a few teaspoons of water if it starts to stick. Process with cream, salt and pepper till smooth. Reheat to serve if necessary.

Dressing: blitz all together in food processor till smooth, then push through a sieve.

Cook cauliflower florets in boiling salted water for 4  minutes or until al dente. Drain and set aside. Preheat chargrill plate till hot. Mix prawns with the oil in a bowl and cook on the grill for 3 minutes, turning once, until just cooked.

Meanwhile heat half the butter in a frying pan and toss the cauliflower florets for 4-5 mins till golden, set aside. Add remaining butter to pan and toss the baby spinach till just wilted, season.

To serve, divide cauliflower purée between 6 plates and spread into a circle. Top each serving with 3 prawns, some spinach, cauliflower florets, almonds, apple julienne. Drizzle with some dressing and top with coriander. I also drizzled a little extra virgin olive oil around the edge.

If serving as a main, increase the prawns so each person gets 5 or 6.

Serves 6 as a starter, four as a main

 

Rich Beef Casserole

If you follow this blog you may have seen that I recently bought an air fryer and used it to make some amazing roast pork belly with crunchy crackling.

It had been quite some years since I last bought a new kitchen gadget. Many people rave about their Thermomix, but I haven’t been tempted, happy to stick with my trusty Magimix food processor, an old-fashioned blender (for when I want a really smooth soup) and a Kenwood stand mixer (which must be getting on for 50 years old) for making meringues and Christmas cakes. It’s been on permanent loan from my friend Ferne since the 1980s!

An air fryer works like a mini fan-forced oven and I love it. The main advantages are:

  • not having to turn on the oven in the middle of summer when you’re trying to keep the house cool.
  • being able to cook a roast without having to clean the oven afterwards (an air fryer is quick and easy to clean)
  • producing crispy food such as French fries with only a smidgen of oil, or sometimes none at all

Today I discovered another use: browning meat before it goes into a casserole. Those who have done this will know that it usually involves browning the pieces in two batches and afterwards you need to clean the spattered hotplates. For today’s casserole I just put the sliced oxtail pieces in the air fryer, gave them 10 minutes at 200°C and Bob’s your Uncle, as they say in the classics. They came out beautifully browned all over.

Pressure cookers were all the rage when I got married many moons ago. Back then they weren’t electric and were probably a bit dangerous. Once the kids left home mine gradually found its way to the back of the cupboard and from there to the Op Shop. About five years ago I upgraded to an electric combined slow cooker and pressure cooker. I find it useful for making rich casseroles like this recipe, in a fraction of the time it takes in the oven.

2 kg oxtails, cut into thick slices (about 2kg)
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1-2 stalks celery, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup tomato paste
1 cup beef stock
250g (more or less) store-bought caramelised onion jam or relish
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1 cup red wine
2 tsp brown sugar
2 Tbs Balsamic vinegar
2 tsp porcini mushroom powder (from specialty shops) (optional)
To serve:
Sour cream (optional)
Fresh herbs

Place beef pieces in the basket of an air fryer and cook for 10 minutes at 200°C. If you don’t have an air fryer, brown the meat all over in a large frying pan with a tablespoon of olive oil – you will need to do this in two batches.

Place the browned meat in a pressure cooker with remaining ingredients. If the juices left in the bottom of the air fryer look a bit fatty, discard them, or perhaps mix them with your dog’s next meal. Our golden retriever reckons it does wonders for those dry old biscuits. My oxtails weren’t very fatty, so there were just a couple of tablespoons of meat juices under the trivet of the air fryer and I added them to the ingredients in the pressure cooker. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, place the ingredients in a large casserole with a lid, or use a slow cooker.

Pressure cook for 45 minutes or cook for 2-3 hours in the oven set to 160°C, until the meat is falling off the bones. When cooking in the oven add a little more water if necessary during cooking time.

Serve garnished with a dollop of sour cream (optional), creamy mashed potatoes and roasted carrots (perhaps these carrots with harissa) or a green vegetable such as peas or beans.

Serves 6-8

Individual Rice Puddings

Rice pudding is one of my favourite desserts. Hot or cold, with or without additions or accompaniments.

Unfortunately I married someone who was put off rice pudding and all similar desserts (custard, tapioca, semolina) after spending time at a boys’ boarding school in his youth. This is why I rarely make something I love.

Browsing on the internet recently I found a post by someone who also finds themselves alone in a house of people who are anti rice pudding. So she just makes one or two, or three or four individual puds, just for herself. What a good idea I thought, so that’s what I did. If you don’t want to turn on the oven just to cook one or two individual puddings, wait until you’re baking something else and cook them at the same time.

Mum used to make one large rice pudding when I was growing up. A delicious dark skin developed on top, which I gather some people prefer to discard. In our house we argued over who got the skin.

Per serving:
1 level Tbs short grain (eg Arborio) rice
1-2 tsp sugar, to taste
½ cup milk
A pinch of nutmeg or ½ tsp vanilla (optional)
To serve:
Pouring cream

You will need one cup ramekins or tea/coffee cups to make these puddings. Grease them lightly, as many as you want to make, and arrange on a baking tray or in an ovenproof dish. Preheat oven to 170°C.

Place the rice, sugar, milk and flavourings in each dish and stir to combine. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until cooked and browning on top. You can discard the skin which forms on the tops, but I like it. Serve hot or chilled with cream.

To reheat in the microwave, drizzle a little milk on the top to moisten, then zap on high for one minute.

Makes as many as you want

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