Sunday, August 30, 2009

Spring Chicken

The whole stuffed chicken breast thing is a bit old fashioned and retro I know, but I wanted something more than just a plain old grilled chicken breast for dinner last night. I put together a simple but really tasty filling of ricotta and italian flavours and served it with some beautiful green peas and beans jazzed up with mint and fetta for a fresh side dish. The result was a dish that felt very spring.

Chicken breast is always the least flavoursome of the various cuts of chicken, and it is always a challenge to cook it through whilst keeping it moist and succulent. I can't count the number of times I've been served overcooked, dry and tasteless chicken! The technique I used for this recipe is a great way to ensure that your chicken breast stays moist and retains as much flavour as possible. Sear first, then bake in the oven and be sure to rest it before serving for a tender result.

I made this dish up as I went along last night, but I think I will be cooking it again. The lightness of the dish and the lovely fresh flavours were really enjoyable. It would make a great do-ahead dinner party dish - just prepare the chicken a few hours ahead up to the searing stage and refrigerate until you are ready to cook it. The side dish only takes a few minutes, so you could have everything done in under half an hour. Anyway, here it is......

Ricotta, olive and tomato filled breast of chicken

with minted beans and fetta

You will need: For the chicken (Per person)1 skinless chicken breast, 1 tablespoon ricotta, 1 teaspoon chopped black olives, 1 teaspoon grated parmesan, 1 teaspoon semi dried tomatoes, 1 teaspoon finely chopped spring onion, salt and pepper, olive oil.

For the side dish:(Serves up to 4) 1 cup peas, 1/2 cup sliced green beans, 1/2 cup peeled broad beans, 1 tablespoon finely sliced fresh mint, 2 tablespoons crumbled fetta, pepper, salt, a squeeze of fresh lemon (plus some extra lemon slices to serve), extra virgin olive oil.

Method: Combine the ricotta, olives, parmesan semi dried tomatoes, spring onion and salt and pepper. Mix well and set aside.

Carefully cut a deep pocket in the chicken breast/s. Gently fill the cavity with the stuffing. Rub the outside of the chicken with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Heat a frypan/grill pan and sear the chicken till golden on both sides. Transfer the chicken to a baking dish and bake in a moderate oven for about 15 mins. Allow the chicken to rest for 5 minutes before serving.

To prepare the veges - steam the green beans, peas and broad beans. When cooked, toss through the mint, fetta, salt and pepper and a generous splash of olive oil. Serve with the chicken and some extra lemon and be sure to pour any juices from the chicken over the dish.


The Great Muffin Experiment

I was in the mood for baking this morning and as many of you would know I'm not a big sweet fan, so I thought I would experiment with savoury muffins. I decided on vegetable based ones, full of zucchini and flavoured with cheese, spring onion, olives and sundried tomatoes. The result was a lovely light and flavoursome muffin that would make a great breakfast or brunch, perfect with a bowl of soup or a nice addition to a picnic.
These will freeze really well, so it's worth making a couple of batches if you have freezer space. Alas I don't, so I will be taking these to work to give to my favourite geeks in the I.T department tomorrow. I make sure that they always get the results of my muffin experiments -I tell them it is a form of bribery - it always pays to have the tech guys on your side! I was happy with the recipe today, particularly the lightness of the texture. I was worried they might be a bit heavy, but they were quite the opposite. I think I will use this recipe for the basis of other savoury muffins in the future. I am already having ideas for other varieties. Watch this space...

Cheesy Zucchini Muffins with sundried tomato and olives

You will need: 3 cups plain flour, 6 teaspoons baking powder, 2 large grated zucchini, 1 cup finely chopped spring onion, 2 tablespoons chopped olives, 2 tablespoons finely chopped sundried tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar, 1/2 cup grated parmesan, 4 eggs, 1 cup milk, 2/3 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon poppy seeds, salt and pepper.

Method: Preheat the oven to 180C. Line a non stick muffin pan with paper patty cases.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a generous sized bowl. Add the olives, zucchini, sundried tomato, spring onion, parmesan and all but 2 tablespoons of the cheddar cheese. (You will save this for the top of the muffins later) Season generously with salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands.

In another bowl, whisk together the eggs, oil and milk. Add this wet mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined with you hands. Do not overmix or your muffins will be very flat and heavy.

Fill the prepared muffin pans with the mixture and sprinkle the leftover cheese and poppy seeds over the top of the muffins. Cook for 25-30 mins. Let them cool in the pan for about 10mins before taking them out and letting them cool further on a wire rack.

Makes about 20 muffins.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

Getting your goat...

Goat meat is the most widely consumed meat in the world and until now, although I had eaten it a number of times, I had never actually cooked it myself. It seems to be a lot more common in butcher shops these days and I even saw hindquarters of goat being sold in Woolworths recently. I suspect that its inclusion as an ingredient in the hugely popular Masterchef program has created a bit of a mainstream demand for this super lean and versatile meat.

Goat is a traditional meat throughout many regions of the world including the Middle East, Mediterranean, parts of Africa, the Caribbean and throughout South-East Asia. If you are purchasing goat meat, be aware that it is also sold as Capretto or Chevon - it won't always be labelled "goat".

I decided to take a hindquarter leg of goat (the bone was already removed when I bought it) and then marinate it, before slow cooking it in the oven. The result was super tender meat with a lovely caramelised crust. I used a citrusy mariande to contrast the richness of the meat.

Because goat meat is very lean, it will dry out very easily, so you will need to make sure that you add moisture to the dish - I used water to ensure that the goat meat was always sitting in a moist environment as it cooked.

I was happy with my first attempt at cooking goat meat - I bought a whole hindquarter of the meat, so I have some in the freezer which I think I will make into a curry at some point. I will post it when I do. In the meantime, here is my recipe for roasted goat meat. I think the flavours would also work well with lamb, so if you can't source any goat, then you can substitute.

Marinated Roasted Goat with Fennel and Kipfler Potatoes

You will need:
(For the dish) 1 small leg of goat (I used a hindquarter leg with the bone removed and tied it up with string to hold it together for cooking), 1 bulb fennel sliced into thick rings, 2 large onions,
4-6 Kipfler potatoes halved, Olive oil, 1 cup water.

(For the marinade) 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, 2 cloves garlic, juice and rind of 1 lemon, 1or 2 small red chillies (I used two), 1 teaspoon paprika, 1 teaspoon honey, salt and pepper.

Method: Combine the marinade ingredients well in a bowl big enough to hold the goat. Add the goat and coat it well in the marinade. Let it rest, covered in the fridge for an hour or more.

Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and brown the goat on all sides. Transfer the goat to a heavy based casserole dish with a lid. Add the onions, a splash of olive oil, a cup of water. Place the goat on top and cook in a moderate oven for an hour and a half with the lid on. Give the dish a stir occasionally and add more water if the dish gets dry. You should try to maintain a layer of liquid on the bottom of the pot at all times.

After an hour and a half, add the potatoes and the fennel. Season well and cook with the lid on for another 30 minutes. Remove the goat and wrap it in foil to rest. Give the potatoes and fennel another 10-15 mins in the oven before serving.

Serve with green vegetables and fresh sliced lemon.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Zing! Zing!

The weather has really warmed up in the last few days (despite it supposedly being winter!) so last night I was really in the mood for something that was light and fresh, instead of the heavier winter food that I have been eating lately. I was also in a seafood mood so I stopped by the fishmonger on the way home to see what was on offer. He had some beautiful fresh whole calamari as well as scallops (my favourite) and some ocean caught prawns. I used these as the basis for today's recipe - a light seafood pasta dish, flavoured with chilli, lime, mint and fetta. This is quick and simple, with lovely zingy flavours that work well with the fresh seafood. Don't be bound by the amounts I have given in the recipe - feel free to use as much or as little seafood as you like. It is a very forgiving dish, so do it your way. Enjoy!

Zingy Seafood Spaghetti with Lime,Chilli, Mint and Fetta

You will need: Spaghetti, 2 tomatoes de-seeded and diced finely, 1-2 hot chillies finely chopped, 1 tablespoon each of fresh mint and continental parsley chopped finely, Juice of 1 fresh lime plus extra lime wedges to serve (Please don't even think about using anything but fresh lime for this - say NO to the one in a plastic container off the supermarket shelf!!!) , 1/3 cup crumbled Fetta cheese, olive oil (I used a good fruity extra virgin one) 100g scallops, 6 large prawns shelled and deveined, 1 large or 2 smallish calamari - cleaned and cut into rings. (Don't throw out the tenatcles - use them too), 1 tablespoon plain flour, salt, pepper, A few drops of Tabasco or hot sauce (optional), A few tablespoons vegetable oil for frying.

Method: Combine the tomatoes, chilli, mint, lime juice and parsley in a bowl with a generous splash of olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Put your spaghetti on to cook in plenty of salted boiling water. While the spaghetti is cooking, move your attention to the seafood. Place your seafood in a bowl, season well with salt, pepper, tabasco and sprinkle with the flour. Mix it through well.

Heat the vegetable oil in a hot frypan and cook the seafood in batches till golden. Be careful not to overcook it, it will only take a very short time to be ready. Set the seafood aside.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and then return it to the pot. Add the tomato mixture, seafood, a generous splash of olive oil and Fetta cheese - combine well. Taste for seasoning and adjust if required.

Serve right away with extra lime wedges. Serves 2-4 depending on how hungry you are!


Sunday, August 23, 2009


I've had some really bad, tasteless vege burgers in my time. Do people think that because you are choosing the vegetarian option that you have also had your tastebuds removed and have lost your culinary will to live??? No people! Mashing a cup of lentils and making them burger shaped does not a vege burger make!!! There are so many other great ingredients that you can include that will give your vege burger bucketloads of flavour and make it delicious.

My recipe includes lovely creamy sweet potato, lentils, chickpeas and plenty of other seasonal vegetables and is served with a delicious and easy to throw together beetroot relish. I make a batch and then freeze the burger patties individually. Heat them in the microwave for a minute or two and you are ready to go. I do not fry my burgers - I find that doing them in the oven is a lot less hassle and you don't have to worry about the burgers breaking up, which can happen if you cook them in the frypan. The oven option also means that these burgers are very low in fat, so this recipe makes a ridiculously healthy, great tasting lunch or dinner.

This recipe makes about 12 burgers and the relish recipe will make two jars. Store the relish in the fridge and use within a couple of weeks. The relish also goes beautifully with grilled meat.

Gourmet Goddess Vege Burgers with Beetroot Relish

You will need:
(For the burgers- makes 12) 1 x rinsed and drained can of chickpeas, 1 x rinsed and drained can of lentils, 4 cups mashed sweet potato, 2 grated zucchini, 1 grated carrot, About 2 cups fresh breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 3 tablespoons BBQ sauce, 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon paprika, 2 small red chillies, 2 cloves garlic, 1 cup chopped continental parsley, 1 teaspoon celery salt, 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, pepper.

(For the relish - makes 2 jars) 3 large sliced onions, 2 cloves crushed garlic, 2 x 400g tins drained sliced beetroot, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, salt and pepper, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 cup water.

Method: First, make the burgers. Put the chickpeas, garlic and chillies in the food processor with a couple of tablespoons of water. Blend until the chickpeas have broken down. Don't blend too much - you want to have a bit of texture to them, so don't make the mixture too smooth.

In a large bowl, combine the chickpea mixture, lentils, mashed sweet potato and all of the other ingredients. Using your hands is best for this. The mixture should be quite soft, but still hold together. Add more breadcrumbs if the mixture is too soft.

Using wet hands, form the mixture into generous sized burgers and place them on a baking tray that is lined with baking paper. (I find that because they are soft, they stick if you don't use the baking paper) Bake them in a moderate oven for 30-40 mins. They will start to brown slightly.
Cool the burgers on the trays before using an egg slice to remove them.

While the burgers are cooking, it's time to make the Beetroot Relish. Place the beetroot in the food processor and blend until the mixture is quite fine (you don't want massive chunks of beetroot)

Heat the olive oil in a pan and cook the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and beetroot. Cook the mixture for a couple of minutes. Add the balsamic, salt, pepper and water and let the mixture simmer until most of the moisture is absorbed. Allow the relish to cool and put in jars.

Serve your burgers in a crusty roll with salad and beetoot relish.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Hawker Heaven

I learned to make today's dish on one of my cooking trips to Singapore, where I ate it at one of the many Hawker stalls you will find throughout the city. I got chatting to the man who ran the stall after complimenting him on how much I enjoyed his dish - a fragrant curry of beef and pineapple. (Ok, it was so good I contemplated licking the plate!) Like many of the stalls, it had been run by generations of the one family - his father and his father before him. They specialised in 3 or 4 dishes and it had been this way for many years - family recipes that were passed down and perfected. I loved his curry - it had a lovely complexity of flavours with a perfect balance of hot, sweet, sour and salt. The meat was meltingly tender and the pineapple added a contrasting freshness to the earthiness of the spices.

Like every local I met in Singapore, he was full of passion for food and eager to talk about it. I took notes as we talked about the spices he used, how he prepared them and how he put the dish together and the next day I headed to the market to buy spices and ingredients to try my hand at my own version of the dish. (If you are ever in Singapore, head to Tekka Market in Little India for a jaw dropping array of produce, spices, meat and seafood) I don't flatter myself by thinking for a moment I would replicate what I ate at that stall exactly, but I figured I had a starting point and I would go from there. I was really delighted with the resulting dish and it is a real crowd pleaser when I serve it to friends. And every time I make it I still think of that Hawker stall in Singapore :)

You will probably not find ingredients such as Belacan (shrimp paste) and Candlenuts at your regular supermarket, you will need to head to an Asian grocer/supermarket. They will be really easy to get there as they are staples in many Asian cuisines. And finally, don't be daunted by the fact that you need to make the extra effort to get the proper ingredients or the fact that you are making the spice paste from scratch - it is really easy and the result is a really authentic tasting dish that you will make again and again. The little bit of extra effort is worth it, I swear!

Beef and Pineapple Hawker Curry

A note about the ingredients:
Belacan (shrimp paste) - smells awful, tastes amazing. This dense paste adds a wonderful richness to curries and I promise that the smell will disappear as it cooks. It is usually sold in blocks or in screw topped containers. I go the container option as it is less messy and keeps the aroma under wraps when it is stored. It lasts for a long time and a small amount goes a long way. Once you use it, it will become a regular addition to any curry you make.

Candlenuts - These oily nuts look a lot like Macadamias and are grated and used in Asian cooking as a thickening agent. Despite their resemblance to Macadamias, do not eat them raw. The oils in them will make you sick unless they are cooked.

Palm Sugar - This can be sold in 1 large block, or in packs of small ones. It ranges from a light golden colour to a dense dark brown. I prefer to use the kind that is darker in colour and I have found that the varieties from Indonesia have a superior flavour. A lot of palm sugar also comes from Thailand and whilst this is completely fine to use, I really recommend the Indonesian product if you can get it. Just check the label to find out where it is from. And one last hint - If your palm sugar is very hard, grating it will make it easier to handle.

You will need:
(For the spice paste) 8 long dried red chillies soaked for 15 mins in water, 3 fresh red chillies, 8 eschallots, 3 cloves garlic, 3cm piece ginger, 2cm piece galangal (it tends to be pretty hard, so instead of chopping it, I recommend grating it finely), 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, 1/2 tablespoon cumin seed, 8 whole cloves, 1 teaspoon white peppercorns, 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1/3 cup warm water.

(For the curry) 1 kg diced beef shin (gravy beef), 1/2 fresh pineapple - core and skin removed and cut into chunks the same size as the beef, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, 2 teaspoons shrimp paste (Belacan), 3 diced tomatoes, 400ml coconut milk (I use the light version - it still gives the rich flavour without the humungous amount of fat that is usually contained in coconut milk), 1 tablespoon fish sauce (Nam Pla), 2 tablespoons grated palm sugar, 3 grated candlenuts, 1 cup water, 1 bunch fresh coriander roughly chopped.

Method: First, make your spice paste. In a dry pan, add the peppercorns, coriander seed, cumin seed and the cloves. Toast them gently until they begin to darken slightly and release their fragrance. Be very careful not to burn them - if you do, start again. If they are burnt you will end up with a bitter and unpalatable dish.

In the food processor, put the roughly chopped ginger, eschallots, roughly chopped fresh and dried chillies, chopped garlic, grated galangal, toasted spices and the warm water. Blend for a minute or two until it forms a paste. It will not be super dense or ultra smooth like commercial spice pastes - this is normal. (You can also use a mortar and pestle for this step if you have the time and upper body strength!)

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy based pot (I use my cast iron/enamel casserole dish for this). Add the spice paste and cook it gently until it starts to darken slightly. Add the shrimp paste and cook for another minute. Add the beef and combine with the spice mixture. Allow the beef to cook for a few mintues.

Add the tomatoes, palm sugar, fish sauce and half of the coconut milk. Mix well and simmer for a minute or two. Add the rest of the coconut milk, pineapple and the water. Simmer on a very low heat for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

After one hour, add the grated candlenuts. Stir thoroughly and cook for another hour. When the meat is super tender and you are ready to serve, stir through the fresh coriander.

Serve with rice or noodles.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Comfort - Italian Style

Nothing says comfort food to me like a bowl of pasta in whatever form - whether it is good old Spaghetti Bolognaise, a delicious Lasagne or one of my faves, the beautiful rolled pasta dish - Cannelloni. Usually I make a vegetarian Cannelloni but I decided to try something a bit different this time - inspired by some fantastic spicy Italian sausages that I had in the fridge. The result was a really lovely flavoursome dish that also made plenty of leftovers to freeze. I have not included a recipe for the tomato sauce on the top. I figure we all have our own version of Nepolitana sauce, so use your own version or a good quality bought one. The pasta I used was fresh flat lasagne sheets which you will find easily in the fridge section at the supermarket. I didn't want the filling to be too heavy but wanted plenty of flavour, so I have added Ricotta and plenty of vegetables to the mix. This dish will serve 8 people.

Italian Sausage Cannelloni with Ricotta

You will need: 6 Italian/Continental style sausages, 1 pack fresh lasagne sheets (cut each sheet into 3 pieces), 2 cups Ricotta cheese, 1 bunch English spinach chopped finely, 2 cups sliced mushrooms, Half a teaspoon dried chilli flakes, Splash of olive oil, 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, 2 teaspoons chopped capers, 1 tablespoon chopped black olives, salt and pepper, 3 cups Nepolitana sauce, 1 cup grated Mozzerella cheese, 2 tablespoons continental parsley.
Method: Split the sausages lengthwise and squeeze out the filling. Disgard the sausage skins. Heat a splash of olive oil in a pan and cook the sausage meat until it starts to brown. Break it up with a spoon as you go so it looks like minced meat. Add the chilli, capers, olives and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add the spinach and stir it through until it wilts. Turn off the heat and set the mixture aside.
In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan and then the sausage mixture. Mix it really well and season generously. I find using my hands is the best way to ensure a good thorough mix.
Take the filling and lay a spoonful along the length of the pasta and roll it up to form the Cannelloni. Lay in them a baking pan (I line the pan with baking paper to make cleaning up easier later on) Continue until you have used all of the mixture.
Top with the Nepolitana sauce and bake for about 40 minutes in a hot oven. Remove the Cannelloin from the oven and top with the cheese. Return it to the oven for 5-10 minutes.
Top with freshly chopped parsley and serve.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

The Mother of Invention

They say that neccessity is the mother of invention and it is often the case when it comes to creating new dishes. Today's dish came about when friends dropped by one day. I invited them to stay for lunch, only remembering a short time later that I had not done any food shopping for a few days (unusual for me) and that the fridge and pantry were not exactly groaning with a cornucopia of ingredients. In fact it was looking pretty dismal - I had even run out of garlic!

I tried not to panic, took stock of the bits and pieces I did have ( a tin of tuna, tomatoes, olives, parsley and a few other things) and ended up accidentally creating a pasta dish that is now one of my favourites. My guests loved it and my hostess reputation was saved! The beauty of this dish is it's simplicity of preparation and its gorgeous fresh flavour. To top it off, it is healthy and you don't even cook the sauce. Yep, just chop the ingredients and add it to the hot cooked pasta and presto! Lunch. If you are a vegetarian you don't have to miss out - you can omit the tuna and you will still end up with a great dish, just increase the amounts of olives, parsley and tomatoes.

You can use any kind of pasta you like for this dish. The day I accidentally invented this recipe I had spaghetti in the cupboard, so that was what I used. Today I used what is probably my favourite type of pasta - Orecchiette. The literal Italian translation means "little ears", due to thier shape. I love them because whatever sauce you make gets trapped in the "little ears" and you don't end up with most of the sauce on the bottom of the plate - it stays on the pasta where it belongs. I also think they're pretty :)

So here it is, "mother of invention" pasta (serves 4)

Tuna and Olive Orecchiette

You will need: Enough pasta to serve 4 people, 2- 3 ripe tomatoes diced finely, 1/2 red onion diced finely, 1/2 cup chopped continental parsley, 1 finely chopped red chilli, 1 tablespoon chopped black olives, 2 teaspoons chopped capers, 1 tablespoon roughly chopped semi-dried tomatoes, 1 tin chunk style tuna in oil (my preferred brand is Sirena - it has a great flavour and the flesh is dense, which is ideal for a dish like this), 2 teaspoons butter, splash of extra virgin olive oil, salt and pepper, dash of tabasco.

Method: Bring a large pot of well salted water to the boil and add the pasta. Keep an eye on it and give it the odd stir while you make the sauce. You want the pasta to be al dente, not overcooked.

Combine the fresh and semi-dried tomatoes, onion, chilli, parsley, tuna, tabasco, olives and capers.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it and then return it to the pan. Add the butter and toss it through the pasta. Add the tuna mixture, a splash of olive oil, a few pinches of salt and plenty of pepper to season.

Serve with fresh grated parmesan.


Saturday, August 8, 2009

The Culinary "Little Black Dress"

We all have those tried and true recipes that we are super comfortable cooking and that allow us to relax and improvise as we go along. This morning's dish, Chilli Corn Cakes is one of those for me. I have cooked it for many years and in many incarnations. No matter how I serve it, it always gets the thumbs up. Both vegetarians and carnivores can be catered for and it can go from breakfast to cocktail food with no problem at all. My Chilli Corn Cakes are served this morning as breakfast with an avocado salsa and a poached egg.

Once you know the basic recipe, you can make this dish anything you want it to be. Top it with grilled chicken or fish for a beautiful fresh tasting lunch, scale down the size a little and top with fresh prawns or grilled asparagus and you have a snazzy entree for a dinner party. Downsize them even more to 50c piece size, top with a little sour cream and salmon and you have a gorgeous cocktail canape. Mix some fresh crab meat or shredded duck right into the salsa mixture for more canape options. Play around with the fresh herbs too - you don't like coriander? Use fresh parsley, basil or chives instead. Make a hearty, spicy dinner by adding lots more chilli and topping the corn cakes with some grilled Chorizo or Italian sausage. See what I mean?

I think of this recipe as the culinary equivalent to the little black dress - it suits everyone, can be dressed up or down and is always appropriate :) It is also a great option to have up your sleeve if you are on a budget. It can be as basic or as fancy as you like, but you can be sure that however you serve it, everyone will want seconds and think you are fabulous ;)

So, here it is.......

Chilli Corn Cakes with Avocado and Tomato Salsa

And this morning's breakfast version.....

You will need: (For the corn cakes)1 egg, 1 cup plain flour, about 1/2 cup milk, 2 pinches baking powder, pinch salt, pepper, splash of tabasco sauce, 1/2 cup cooked corn kernels (I use frozen ones for convenience, but you can also use tinned ones or cook your own fresh kernels),
1-2 finely chopped chillies, 1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander, 1/3 cup finely sliced spring onion.

You will need: (For the salsa) 1/2 finely chopped red onion, 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley, 1-2 small red chillies finely chopped, 1 avocado diced finely, 2 large tomatoes with the seeds removed and finely chopped (I like to use Roma/Egg tomatoes as I think they have a superior flavour), squeeze of fresh lemon or lime juice, splash extra virgin olive oil, dash of tabasco, salt and pepper.

Method: Start with the corn cakes - In a bowl, whisk the egg and milk together with salt, pepper and tabasco. Gradually whisk in the flour and baking powder to form a reasonably thick, smooth batter. It should be the same consistency as pancake batter. Add more milk or flour if you need to. Set the batter aside to rest for 15 mins. Stir through the corn, chilli, coriander and spring onion.

In a another bowl, gently combine the salsa ingredients. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary.

Cook the corn cakes in batches in a hot, lightly greased pan (today I used a dessertspoon of mixture per corn cake) Serve with the salsa. Makes about 12 small corn cakes and serves 4 people as a breakfast or main meal.


Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Laotian Lusciousness

Tonight I decided to make one of my all time favourite Asian dishes - Larb (sometimes spelt Laap, Larb or Larp) a deliciously fresh and spicy salad that originates from Laos. This dish is also very popular in Northern Thailand and you will often see it on the menus of Thai restaurants here in Australia. It is comprised of minced meat, plenty of fresh herbs and flavoured with lime juice and fish sauce (Nam Pla) The addition of toasted rice powder takes this salad to a whole other level, both in terms of texture and taste. The rice is crunchy and nutty- a lovely contrast to the freshness of the lime juice, fresh herbs and succulent meat. The toasted rice powder is very easy to make - don't be tempted to leave it out. It really does make the dish.

You can use any kind of mince for Larb - it is delicious with pork, chicken, beef or turkey (my favourite and what I chose tonight) I have also eaten Larb done with minced fish. But of course, it is completely up to your own taste. The same goes for the chilli. I like it hot, but put in as much or as little as you like. Traditionally it is served with quite a lot of chilli and I think the dish works best with a decent kick to it. This dish is super fast to make - it took me 20mins tonight, so it is an ideal midweek dinner. Serve it with plain steamed rice.
To make toasted rice powder: Take 1/3 cup uncooked white rice and toast in a dry, hot pan until it is lightly brown. Crush in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to form a powder.
Laotian Larb

You will need: 500g mince (I used turkey), 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, 1 large finely sliced red onion, 1 cup sliced spring onion, 1 bunch chopped fresh coriander, 1 tablespoon roughly chopped mint, 1-6 small finely chopped red chillies, 3 teaspoons grated ginger, 2 cloves crushed garlic, Juice of 2 limes, 1 tablespoon fish sauce (Nam Pla), pepper, 1 portion of toasted rice powder (see instructions above), Lime wedges and sliced cucumber to serve.

Method: Heat the oil in a pan and add the garlic, ginger, spring onion and 1 teaspoon of the chilli (you will use the rest raw later) cook gently for about a minute. Add the mince and cook until the mince starts to brown. Season with pepper and remove from the heat.

In a bowl, combine the cooked mince, red onion, coriander, mint, chillies, lime juice, fish sauce. Finally, stir through the toasted rice powder. Serve with extra lime, cucumber and steamed rice.


Monday, August 3, 2009


I was craving red meat tonight and decided on a good old fashioned steak. I was going to keep it all pretty basic but in the end I decided to make a lovely rich mushroom and port sauce to jazz it up a little bit. This sauce would go well with chicken, as well as red meat - It is pretty rich, so a little goes a long way. This recipe will serve four people. Oh, and if you don't happen to have any port on hand, you could use brandy or red wine.

Steaks with Port Mushroom Sauce

You will need: 1 steak per person, 2 cups sliced mushrooms, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon butter, 6 finely sliced eschallots, 1 clove crushed garlic, 1 cup beef stock, 100ml cream, 1/4 cup port, 2 teaspoons Worchestershire sauce, pepper and salt to taste.

Method: Cook the steaks to your liking. Cover loosely with foil and let them rest in a warm place.

Heat the butter and olive oil in a pan and cook the eschallots on a medium heat until softened. Add the mushrooms and garlic and season with pepper. (Don't use salt at this point - the stock tends to be quite salty and will probably be enough. You can always add some at the end if you need to.) Sautee the mushrooms for a few minutes until cooked.

Add the port and mix well. The port will bubble up and evaporate the alcohol. Cook for 1 minute and then add the stock and Worchestershire sauce. Allow to simmer for another minute and then add the cream. Simmer on a high heat until it reduces and thickens. Taste for seasoning and adjust if required. Serve over the steaks.


Sunday, August 2, 2009

Mouthwatering Morocco

You might remember back in June I showed you how to make Moroccan Preserved Lemons. Well, I checked them this morning and they are ready to be used, so today's recipe includes this unique ingredient. I really enjoy Moroccan food for it's aromatic character, beautiful flavours and balanced use of sweetness and sourness. Today's dish has all of these things. It uses roasted spices, dried apricots, chilli and of course the lemony punch of the preserved lemons, to make a Chicken Tagine that can be a midweek dinner or a centerpiece for a full Moroccan style feast.
A Tagine gets its name from the conical earthenware pots used through North Africa to braise meat, grains and vegetables. The principle is that the meal is cooked slowly, and the moisture that collects in the lid runs back into the dish. This results in very tender meat and no loss of precious flavour. More recently, a Tagine has come to mean the dish itself - braised or stewed meat, vegetables and grains that may or may not actually be cooked in a Tagine. I just used a standard heavy based pot to cook my Tagine today.

Although my recipe includes chicken, you can easily adapt this to suit you. You can omit the meat altogether and add more vegetables (carrot, zucchini, eggplant for example) or you could use lamb or goat meat in place of the chicken. If you use lamb or goat, I would double the quoted cooking time. If you use vegetables alone, halve the cooking time. Also feel free to ramp up the chilli content if you like things spicy. I used both fresh chilli and Harissa (Moroccan chilli paste) in my dish. If you cannot buy Harissa where you are, substitute minced chilli or sambal olek. The flavour is different but it still works well. Serve the Tagine with couscous and warm flatbread to soak up all the delicious gravy. My recipe serves 4-6 and freezes extremely well if you want to save some for later.

A note about the preserved lemon - to prepare the presrved lemon, you need to remove all of the pulp and disgard it. You will only use the skin. With a sharp knife, cut off the pith close to the skin. Disgard this also. Wash the lemon skin well - it will be very salty. Then chop the lemon finely. Now it is ready to use.

Chicken Tagine

You will need: 1kg skinless chicken thighs cut into large chunks, 2 diced red onions, 1 diced red pepper, 3 cloves finely chopped garlic, 1/2 cup diced pumpkin, 1 tablespoon pitted black olives, 1 can chickpeas rinsed and drained, 1 large sliced red chilli, 2 teaspoons finely chopped preserved lemon, 300g halved dried apricots, olive oil, 1/2 cup plain flour, 1 tablespoon sweet paprika, 1-2 teaspoons Harissa (or minced chilli), 2 teaspoons honey, 1/2 teaspoon white peppercorns, 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 teaspoon corainder seeds, 6 cloves, 1 stick cinnamon, 1 litre chicken stock (or vegetable stock), 1/2 cup toasted skinless almonds, 1 bunch fresh coriander roughly chopped, 1 tablespoon finely chopped mint.

Method: First, toast your spices. In a dry pan combine the cloves, coriander seeds and peppercorns and toast them gently until they start to release their fragrance. When they are done, crush them in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder. Next, splash some olive oil into a heavy based pot and cook the red onion, peppers, garlic and pumpkin until the onion starts to brown a little. Add the spice mixture, along with the olives, fresh chilli, cinnamon stick, preserved lemon, and Harissa. Cook for another minute or two. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a plastic bag, combine the flour and paprika. Add the chicken and coat the pieces well in the flour mixture. Heat a frypan and add a generous splash of olive oil. Cook the chicken in batches until slightly golden on both sides.

Add the chicken, apricots,honey, chickpeas and stock to the spice/onion mixture. Combine and bring to the boil. Simmer gently uncovered (stirring occasionally) for about an hour. When ready to serve, taste for seasoning and stir through the fresh coriander and mint. Top with the toasted almonds.