Earlier this year, shortly after returning from our Canadian skiing holiday, I embarked on a project to post pictures of our favourite weekly meals on Instagram. It was originally meant as a way to document our journey towards a lighter and healthier way of eating after a fortnight of carb and melted cheese filled indulgence. 11 weeks/posts later, this feed #foodpicsoftheweek is now a collection of healthy choices and comforting dishes, one that I look forward to put together every monday! Much to my family’s despair, as my interest in food photography is now turning into an obsession ( so my husband says…)
This had led me to expand the cooking repertoire seeking variety beyond roasts, omelettes and curries. I am dabbing in raw food, cured meats, vegan baking…not so much for health or philosophical reasons, but because I am curious ( and also bored with old ways I must admit).
I made this mushroom salad one day, after seeing Jamie Oliver’s version in a magazine. It uses raw mushrooms, which reminds me of a French starter Salade de champignons served often in the school canteens. It also makes good use of the lettuce from the garden, and combined with sliced radishes, shaved parmesan and salty prosciutto, you have the perfect simple salad for a warm autumn day ( or any day! )
Mushroom Carpaccio salad
Serves 2, as a light lunch or starter
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
4 slices of prosciutto
100g firm white mushrooms ( you can use other kinds if desired ) sliced thinly
4 radishes, thinly sliced
Baby cos lettuce leaves
20g parmesan cheese, shaved
Chives, snipped for garnish
- Make the dressing: combine the lemon juice, olive oil. salt and pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
- Place the lettuce leaves on a serving platter. Loosely drape the prosciutto over the leaves, arrange the mushrooms and the radishes in the middle. Scatter the parmesan and chives on top.
- Spoon over the dressing and serve. Voila!
Do you have an Easter family tradition?
Beside lamb for Easter Sunday lunch and some chocolate eggs, I can’t remember my parents made much of Easter when I was growing up in France. We did enjoy the 3-day long weekend though, and the spring holidays that it coincided with. Ahh, les vacances de Paques…
Fast forward to my arrival in Australia, and discovering that the Easter weekend spans over 4 days with Good Friday being a public holiday therefor allowing for a mini-break without the need to take out precious annual leave. Then there is the Easter Egg hunt which, while common in France, never reached the level of commitment ( or dare I say commercialism ) seen here. Before our kids were born, we seemed to adopt an “adult version” of Easter which meant a long weekend of good food and drinks with friends and Terry’s children. Living on a boat, egg hunting was reduced to hiding a couple of goodies in the cabin and pretend the Easter Bunny must have been very sneaky to A) swim across the bay and B) make it inside!
Then Marc and Anne came along. By then we were travelling on the boat quite extensively and as far as tradition goes we found it easier to adapt to whatever the locals did. We are not a religious family as such, however I have always been interested in the significance of certain celebrations, and homeschooling gave us the opportunity to teach the kids (and ourselves) how events like Easter or Christmas are observed in different cultures. Marc’s first Easter celebration was at the Waikiki Yacht Club in Hawaii, when he was 2. Yukulele and live bunnies made for a strange combination, I thought, but the spirit was there! We’ve joined in village festivities while anchored off Porto Pollo in Corsica, woken up to the sound of church bells in the remote amazonian town of Breves and found chocolate eggs delivered on deck by english yachting friends anchored nearby (in our excitement to be in Brazil, I had forgotten to provision for Easter goodies that year). I have memories of a fantastic bbq onboard shared with a french family we cruised with in the Caribbeans ( I supplied the leg of lamb saved for the occasion and they brought the chocolate cake). But it wasn’t until we stopped in Mexico and experienced the Semana Santa that Easter took on a completely different turn: with 90% of the population baptised catholics, Easter is taken very seriously and observed with much religious fervour for a whole 2 weeks. It is a time for family, family and family! Lots of food too, but in the forms of aqua fresca (fresh juices) and sweet breads. No chocolate eggs there, Cascarones instead: hollowed out chicken eggs, filled with confetti or small toys. The idea is to chase one another trying to crack the egg over someone’s head, it is rumoured to bring good fortune and be a sign of affection.
I guess, what I am getting at, is that I have so far been happy to partake in other people’s traditions and never worried about having one of our own. Since our return to Australia, every Easter has been spent quietly at home except for Sunday, when Mal and Danielle organise an annual Easter Egg Hunt and put on a phenomenal spread. This year will be no different and we are all looking forward to Sunday.
However as half the family on Terry’s side is going away for the long weekend this year, I decided to have a pre-Easter family lunch last Sunday sans the Egg Hunt, because it would have broken the tradition to have it on Easter Sunday and more importantly, our labrador Sam would have had a field day gorging on chocolate eggs no doubt resulting in a trip to the vet ( it happened last year, when he “stole” a birthday cake left to cool on the kitchen bench, a traumatic experience no one is keen to relive!)
With a guest list of 20 (including 4 little ones, as I like to call the young contingent, it sounds better than grandkids in my book), it was onto the menu planning. And that’s where tradition comes in. Apart from being a most important event on the Christian calendar, Easter in the Northern Hemisphere coincides with the return of Spring and some food items can be traced back to pagan rites to celebrate the new season: eggs ( for rebirth), lamb (symbol of sacrifice but also new spring lamb just coming onto the market…) ham ( seen as a symbol of luck ) bread and cakes ( as offerings to the goddess of fertility, Eostre).
I already happened to have a 10 pound piece of ham in the fridge I was saving for an occasion when there would be more than the 4 of us. This would be the centrepiece! It was easy to find a few lamb cutlets to serve alongside a cabbage salad laden with port soaked sultanas and grated pecorino. Eggs were a must and I found this recipe for Torta Pasqualina ( also known as Tourte de Paques in French or Easter Pie in Australia) which was combining hard boiled eggs and spinach in a puff pastry shell, an ideal way to eat your veggies, I thought.
As starters, I opted for platters to pass around while guests were sipping on drinks. And before you start thinking I was a slave to the kitchen for days, I must mention that these were a mix of homemade dishes as well as store-bought items. Starting with a cold meat platter with salt cured duck breast I made a few weeks prior, store-bought salami, chorizo, olive mortadella and chunks of rockmelon.
Platter no 2 was based on a recipe I found in the latest AGT and featured smoked trout, pickled cauliflower, bread rolls and aioli. I prepared the pickled cauli earlier in the week, the rest was available at the local supermarket ( included the Paul Newman aioli!).
Platter no 3 was always going to be a cheese one, after succumbing to temptation at the Blackwattle Deli the previous weekend. Mimolette, ashen goat cheese, Bleu d’Auvergne and Camembert…who could resist french stinky cheese? Especially paired with my sweet roasted grapes ( sorry if I sound like I am boasting, they are very nice indeed!).
Some of my guests kindly brought along side dishes so we feasted on Mediterranean baked vegetables supplied by Rosalie, and Leanne’s garlicky bean and olives salad…which complimented the lamb beautifully. Also, because I was concerned we might not have enough to eat, I baked a last minute batch of crushed potatoes. These were devoured in 5 minutes!!
Of course we also had hot cross buns and thanks to Kathy, a lovely fruits and snack platters for the kids, an aussie essential to any inter-generational meal at our place!
And the dessert I hear you ask? I had a craving for Caneles, these morsels of French deliciousness, a Bordeaux specialty rich in egg, butter and rum, perfect accompaniment to coffee. But the prize goes to Carolyn who I regard as the queen of chocolate cupcakes and jumped at the opportunity to bake for 20 and showed up with 56 (!!!!) cupcakes lovingly iced in Easter pastel colours. Who needed to hunt for Easter eggs after such a feast??
So here is to what may become our own pre-Easter tradition: a little bit of French, Italian and Australian mixed together.
This recipe is only slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s, where I used shortcrust pastry for the bottom of the pie to help make it more robust, and lighter puff pastry at the top. Silverbeet was my choice of green but you can use spinach or chard if you prefer. And don’t be shy with the fresh herbs, the more the better for flavour! This is a very heavy, filling pie, full of green goodness and keeps well for a few days ( in the fridge! )
Serves 8 as a main, 12-15 as part of a buffet
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 kg silverbeet, stalks removed and roughly chopped, leaves cut into 1cm slices
3 sticks celery, trimmed and finely sliced
A generous handful of parsley leaves, roughly chopped
A generous handful of dill, roughly chopped
A generous handful of basil, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
100g strong cheddar, grated
Salt and pepper
2 sheets of shortcrust pastry
1 sheet of puff pastry
Some plain flour for dusting
- Put a large sauce pan/casserole dish on medium heat. Add the oil and onion and cook for 10 minutes until soft and golden, stirring occasionally to prevent sicking.Add the silverbeet chalks and celery, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the leaves and cook for another 5 minutes until the leaves are wilted, and the stalks and celery have softened. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool a little.
- Place a colander over a large bowl and pour in the contents of the pan. Drain and squeeze out the juice by pressing onto the solids as much as possible ( you want it quite dry ). Do not discard the juice, it makes for a nice vegetable broth.
- Transfer the vegetable mixture to a large bowl, add the herbs, spices, cheeses, 3 eggs, 1/2 tsp of salt and some pepper. Mix well and set aside.
- In the meantime, roll out one sheet of shortcrust pastry into a 30cm square that’s 2.5mm thick. Transfer to 30cm diameter spring form cake tin that is 6cm high. Press the pastry down and up the sides of the tin. it will not come all the way up. Divide the other sheet of shortcrust into 4 equal size strips and roll each one to the correct size to cover the sides of the tin. press into the edges of the tin and trim off most of the overhang. Roll the sheet of puff pastry to a 30 cm square and set aside.
- Tip the silverbeet mixture into the cake tin and use a spoon to create 5 egg-sized holes. Break an egg into each hole then lay the puff pastry lid on top. trim the edges, then pinch the lid and base together to make sure it is sealed properly.Whisk the remaining egg, brush it over the lid, then prick a few times with a fork.
- Bake for 45 minutes in a pre-heated 180C oven, until cooked and golden brown.
- Leave to cool for 30 minutes and serve warm or at room temperature.
I have been experimenting with fermented and pickled food lately, mainly as a fun project but also to find new ways to eat healthy and if you believe the latest trend, pickled is the new black in terms of superfood.
This recipe is taken from last year’s issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller, where the sweet and tangy cauliflower is served with smoked trout rolls. Making the pickles is easy, cutting the bread rolls is child’s play. What the magazine doesn’t mention, is how long it takes to skin, debone and flake the flesh of the smoked trout. You have been warned!
1 small cauliflower, broken into florets
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
3 white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
500 ml apple cider vinegar
140g caster sugar
1 tbsp sea salt flakes
1 tsp grated ginger
1 red child (optional)
- Blanch cauliflower and fennel until tender but still crisp ( 1-2 minutes ). Drain, rinse briefly under cold water to cool slightly and shake off excess water. Place in a bowlwith white onion.
- Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat, add mustard seeds and stir until seeds pop (10-20 seconds). Add vinegar, sugar, salt and 200ml of water and bring to a simmer. Add sultanas, ginger, child then pour the mixture over cauliflower. Place in a sterilised jar, seal and store in a cool dark place or refrigerate for 3 days before using. Pickles will keep up to 3 months.
- Serve alongside bread rolls, cut in half, spread with aioli and topped with smoked trout.
Sweet Roasted grapes
One day I found a whole bag of white grapes languishing in the bottom of the fridge. Obviously past their prime, I didn’t want to waste them so ended up roasted them alongside some chicken. The end result was so delicious, I now look forward to have “old” grapes so that I can roast them! This recipe is our latest favourite: we serve the syrupy fruits with cheese for appetisers but also like them over yoghurt in the morning or even vanilla ice cream for dessert!
2 tbsp butter (salted is OK)
500g seedless grapes
3/4 cup walnuts
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp honey
A squeeze of lemon juice
- Grease an ovenproof skillet with the butter. Add the grapes and the walnuts. Sprinkle with the sugar.
- Roast about 25mn in a pre-heated 220C oven. Stir occasionally to stop nuts from burning.
- Transfer the grapes to a bowl using a slotted spoon.Simmer the juices with the honey on the stove until thick and syrupy, 5 minutes or so. Take off the heat, squeeze lemon juice and a pinch of pepper. Pour the syrup over the grapes.
This is probably going to sound weird but do you have moments when the content of your fridge or pantry brings you back some place else? It happens to me quite often, thanks to the pile of food items I always buy when we travel: jars of jams and pickles, logs of salamis, boxes of chocolate, bottles of wine…I am notorious for stuffing our luggage with local produce in the hope to recreate a dish or an experience back home.
So last week, both my fridge and Facebook reminded me that, exactly a year ago Terry and I were in Port Lincoln, South Australia. It was primarily a business trip, as we were looking at buying a boat to become involved in a Fishing Charter business. I won’t go into the business details, this is not what this blog is about, but let’s just say that the boat’s previous owner, Ron, was heavily involved in the tuna fishing industry and while he had built this vessel for his own use as a cruiser, he insisted the craftsmanship be up to commercial standards so she could also be used for fishing. Terry fell in love with the engine room (as mechanics and engineers do) and didn’t take long to decide she would be the perfect addition to the existing fleet of Sydney Premium Charters ( ok, this will be the one and only plug to our business!) Him and Ron turned out to come from the same no-nonsense, triple back-up, practical school of boat building and got along great from the start, so much so that when Ron heard I would join Terry to prepare for the delivery trip to Sydney, he kindly offered to host us at his place. There is nothing like old fashioned country town hospitality, and Ron certainly was a gentleman introducing us to some of his family and friends, recounting the history of tuna fishing and boat building on the Eyre Peninsula, and most importantly in my books, sharing his knowledge of local restaurants, producers and wineries generously so that I could wander on a culinary adventure of my own while Terry busied himself on the boat.
The first thought that comes to mind about Port Lincoln is seafood. This is the town lifeblood, you get a glimpse of it from the air, as the small plane from Adelaide flies over dozens of fish ponds scattered a few miles off town in the Spencer Gulf. Wait to land then drive around the harbour and discover the staggering number of fishing boats: the Eyre Peninsula is home to the largest commercial fleeting fleet in the Southern Hemisphere! Oysters, mussels, calamari, prawns, kingfish, snapper and the highly prized southern bluefin tuna and King George Whiting…all can be found in these cold southern waters and for a seafood lover like me, this place is heaven. And I already wished I was staying longer than the 4 days originally planned.
Let’s get one thing clear: I didn’t go swimming with seals ( water was cold), cage diving with the great white shark ( are you crazy?) or boarded a charter tour operator ( when I knew I would deliver our own boat a few days later). I was there for the food… and a little sight seeing, while driving from one eating place to the next.
Lets start with dinner at Del Giorno’s, on Port Lincoln’s esplanade. We met the owners Kris and Debra the night before, at a BBQ organised by Ron’s son, and were keen to have a taste of the local produce. Kris is Port Lincoln born and bred, actively promoting the Eyre Peninsula’s hospitality industry and committed to its local community. All the produce featured on the restaurant’s menu are sourced in the region, and if you ask, Kris will be able to tell a story about each producer. Terry and I decided to order simple entrees, wanting to taste the raw ingredients: plain oysters from Coffin Bay (just up the road!) for him, sashimi of farmed bluefin tuna and Hiramasa kingfish for me. The oysters were fresh and briny, hardly needing the house made cocktail sauce they were served with, while the sashimi was succulent dipped in soy sauce and wasabi.
For main course, Terry could not go past the crumbed King George whiting and chips and I dove into the mussel pot (being the only mussel lover in the family, I hardly ever cook them at home!). Delighted with our meal, I could not wait for the next day of eating!
After a morning of pottering on the boat, I left Terry and Ron onboard and took off destined for Coffin Bay, 45km away. The plan was to grab a late seafood lunch and take the scenic Oyster Walk. That was before I missed the turn off to Coffin Bay and ended up on the road to Kellidie Bay, directly opposite. There is not much on these roads, and just as I was questioning the wisdom to drive on my own in the middle of nowhere, I spotted a sign on the side of the road for an Antique shop/Pig Farm. How intriguing! Welcome to Minniribie Farm, owned and run by antique dealer Warren Smith who moved from Adelaide about 10 years ago to set up a store for antiques and collectibles. He introduced a small litter of Berkshire pigs a few years later, because he figured that “if things went bad and people stopped buying records or antiques, they would still be buying meat”. I was kindly shown around the paddock, where now 300 pigs and over 50 piglets happily roam free range, fed with a diet of vegetables, hormones and antibiotics free.
Back in the antique shed, a fridge full of pork sits alongside racks of comic books and old vinyl records. A few steps away, a small cafe serves pancakes, burgers and pies ( all pork of course!) with a deck overlooking distant Kellidie Bay. Somehow I was really glad I took that wrong turn! Though I was too late for lunch and the kitchen was closed, sold on the idea of superior tasting meat, I stocked up on frozen packs of pork legs, bacon, and pies intending to fill up the boats freezer.
I made my way back to Port Lincoln just in time for dinner, some nice crumbed King George whiting prepared by Ron ( knowing a fisherman has its perks..).
After hearing of my missing out on a visit to Coffin Bay, Ron suggested I join a behind-the- scenes guided tour of the Fresh Fish Place in town instead. This is a big local business which includes a factory direct retail outlet, factory tours and tastings as well as a Seafood cooking school. While the cooking school was not an option at such short notice, I put my name down for a tour while being told that a minimum of 4 people was required for it to go ahead. Unfortunately no one else booked that day so the tour was cancelled, which didn’t stop me from driving to the retail shop and spoil my disappointed self with local produce and quirky giftware.
While in a provisioning mood, I left my mark at the liquor shop, stocking up on local drops Boston Bay and Lincoln Estates wines. Between time spent on boat errands and food excursions, I never managed a visit at any of the local wineries, so I figured that if I could not make it to the cellar doors I would have them come to me and organise my own wine tasting onboard. Anything labelled “Sashimi”, “Great White” . “Blacklip” or “Diamond Sea” has to be worth a try, no? You should have seen Terry and Ron’s faces when I returned to the boat and loaded boxes of wine, cold and frozen seafood…most to ship back to Sydney, but also some for dinner: Coffin Bay oysters and smoked squids washed with a chilled glass of local Sauvignon Blanc.
The next day was supposed to be my last and I had plans to finalise the provisioning with home cooked dishes and local delicacies like pickled seafood or organic vegetables. Except our delivery crew withdrew leaving Terry on his own to drive the boat to Sydney. A quick brainstorming session ensued, followed by a last minute change of plans, and I was on the plane back home to tend to the kids and the dog for a couple of days, long enough to fill up the house fridge and cook lunches/dinners for 5 days. Then it was back to Port Lincoln, hoping Terry had stocked up the galley to my liking, but he hadn’t. In his defence, he had been busy ensuring the boat was ship shape for the 5 days passage to Sydney, and given the choice between boat safety and culinary treats, he would chose boat safety any day! He did take the time to shop for food though, as he proudly showed me the ready to eat packages of lasagna, curries, yoghurt and cheeses. I sighed.
Then I smiled, suggesting we have one last diner out before the 4am departure the next day. So it was, that our final Port Lincoln feast was at the Marina Hotel , a short walk away, for one more taste of the Eyre Peninsula. Being a saturday night, the place was packed with locals, evidently a favourite with great views over the marina and Boston island beyond. Never feeling culinary adventurous on the eve of an ocean crossing, we stuck to simple menu choices: starting with a tasting plate to share, then creamy garlic prawns for Terry and soft shell crabs for me. Ok it sounds not so simple, but the beauty of it was in the freshness of the seafood and the restraint in the seasoning ( no heavy hand with the garlic or chili ).
A few hours later, a knock on the hull woke us up: it was Ron, who had decided to join us for part of the delivery trip, at least until we cleared South Australian waters. Much appreciated help, since he knows this coast like the back of his hand. And just like that, the week came to an end with a departure in the dark alongside other fishing trawlers, and the start of a new adventure: from Port Lincoln to Port Hacking.
Australian meat pies are what empanadas are to the Spanish people, pizza rustica to Italians, tourtes a la viande to the French or tourtiere to Canadians: a shortcrust or puff pastry shell filled with a mixture of meats ( with aromatics and other ingredients) covered with a lid of the same pastry. I have made my own version at home and on the boat, using whatever was on hand in the fridge and the pantry and refer to it as left over pie, eaten mostly on a friday night when cooking from scratch is the last thing on my mind but I still won’t give in to order takeaways.
We had one of these nights, when returning from our overseas trip last month. After spending close to 20 hours in airports, planes and buses, I just didn’t have the energy to get in the car and face the supermarket crowd. So, I turned to the freezer for inspiration and found some puff pastry, with left over turkey from Christmas (including a decent amount of stuffing!). Thanks to Craig, Terry’s son, the veggie garden not only survived but thrived during our absence and we were blessed with fresh lettuce and tomatoes. All that was needed was a little patience while the turkey meat and stuffing thawed out. In the meantime, a quick search thru the fridge and pantry resulted in some walnuts, a jar of honey roasted garlic in sherry vinaigrette and a log of goat cheese ( I have an entire shelf dedicated to cheese for the exact purpose of dinner in a hurry!)
And what a meal, even more delicious considering the short notice: the pie filling was moist and sweet from the stuffing ( which has enough of its own seasoning so that no extra ingredients were needed, remember to ask Maliney for the recipe) and the salad was nice and refreshing, a welcome change to the airline food…
So, how about you? Do you have your own pie version, left over or otherwise?
Turkey (leftover) pie
I know I said this pie does not need any extra ingredients for flavour, but I like to add sautéed onion as it provides additional moisture to the filling.
Serves 4 as a light dinner
4 cups cooked turkey meat ( a mixture of white and dark meat)
4 cups cooked stuffing ( mine was a mix of sourdough crumbs, sausage and prunes…)
1 onion sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 sheet of puff pastry (for the lid), frozen
1 sheet of shortcrust pastry ( for the base), frozen
1 egg, slightly beaten
- If using frozen, defrost the meat and stuffing in the fridge overnight. Thaw out the pastry sheets, 15 minutes at room temperature.
- In a frypan, sauté the onion in olive oil until soft and golden. Take off the heat and cool for a while. In a large bowl, mix with the thawed turkey meat and stuffing. Set aside.
- Roll out the shortcrust pastry and line a buttered pie dish with it. Spread the turkey mix on top.
- Roll out the puff pastry and place it over the pie dish, sealing the edges by moistening and pinching them together. Make a few small holes in the middle with a knife to let the steam escape. Brush the top of the pie with the beaten egg and bake in a preheated oven at 220C for 45 minutes.
- Serve with a salad and a glass of light red wine. Enjoy!
My garden salad
This is hardly a recipe, more a list of ingredients found in the fridge, garden and pantry and thrown together to make a nice salad. By using the garlic in sherry vinaigrette, you do away with having to make a dressing, a bonus in my book!
Serves 4 as a side
A mix of soft lettuces ( red oak, baby cos, green leaf,…), washed and dried
1 or 2 tomatoes, quartered
1 cups walnuts, toasted
120g goat cheese log
1 cup honey roasted garlic in sherry vinaigrette (including the dressing!)
- Mix all ingredients in a large bowl
- Serve with a wedge of turkey pie ( or a steak! )
It was our son’s 19th birthday a couple of weeks ago. The family tradition is to order KFC and gorge on fried chicken by the bucket load. Well, the kids do anyway, while the rest of us always look forward to the alternative menu. Not that it is necessarily lighter, it just offers something other than deep fried!
Marc’s “plan B” was to have Mexican food, which we were all happy to hear since it is one of the family’s favourite cuisine ( along with French, Italian, Burgers, Thai, Chinese,…it all depends on who you ask) So I went to town, literally. Hurstville, to be exact, which is well known for its dozens of Asian eateries and the best place this side of Sydney to find fresh and exotic fruits and vegetables.
I always take on the 20mn drive with a list of specific ingredients, and end up distracted with the dumplings, the duck, the bbq pork and the various noodles on offer. Over time, my shopping visit have turned into a ritual: I always start at Hurstville Central with a visit to Tosca Seafood. The variety on display is mind boggling, from the usual snapper to the salmon or the abalone ( a favourite of the mostly asian clientele), with some harder to find species like coral trout or spanish mackerel which I never see in our local seafood. Apart from salmon and tilapia, every fish is displayed whole or as cutlets, so if you want fillets, it is a matter of picking your choice of fish and have the staff cut it for you. You then end up with not only the meat but also the head and bones for stock! That’s how I bought 2 blue eye cods, to make sure I would have enough meat for fish tacos for 17 people.
Next stop, is at Tong Li Supermarket, where I generally go crazy snapping fresh rice noodles and bunches of chinese greens. Not that I can’t find them where I live, but in Hurstville the turnover is so high that I am always sure to find the freshest produce. And the more unusual too: like jicama (known here as yam bean) or dragon fruit.
Dumplings are my weakness, and I can never resist a sampling at Ken’s Bento ( I call them dumpling on the go!).
And because I would have a riot at home otherwise, I always stop by Honk Kong Delight and buy a take-away dinner of Chinese Duck and Char Siu sausages.
By the time I came home with all my goodies, you’d think I would be preparing a chinese feast instead of a mexican one!
So, back to Cocina Mexicana my way. Planning the menu was easy: we had to have the staple guacamole, tomato salsa, fish tacos, coleslaw, with loads of corn chips and tortillas. This, in addition to the bucket of fried chicken, should have been enough. Except that I purchased a new cooking magazine while overseas and the compulsory feeder/recipe tester in me took over, and I decided on a couple (ok, a few) of extra dishes to make it more interesting. Starting with a pumpkin seeds dip, because it reminded me of a dish of chicken in pumpkin seed sauce I ate in Tabasco a few years ago. Then, I thought of cooking Pork Verde, because no party is complete without a stew of some sort, but came across a recipe for carnitas that picked my interest. And instead of potato wedges or fries, I decided to try a mexican inspired roast potato dish. The final extra dish was BBQ corn, which involved removing the silk of 17 cobs while keeping the husk intact, with the intention of rubbing some spiced butter inside, then folding the husk back. It sounded like a good idea at the time, but when the guests arrived I realised I bit more than I could chew, even though I had done most of the prep ahead of time: the fish needed cooking, the tortillas reheating, the fruits were still uncut…so I enrolled everyone to help wrap the corn in foil (forget drawing the husk back over!) and put Mr T on BBQ duty.
Thanks to copious amounts of libations and snacks, no one seemed to mind being served dinner 2 hours after walking in, then again jumping in the pool on a hot day always helps, and our family is pretty forgiving with long wait (they know what is coming!).
Dessert was meant to be Marc’s favourite chocolate cake, which I decided to experiment with at the last minute by substituting coconut flour instead of plain flour (don’t ask why!). It was a flop, turns out that the coconut flour soaked all the moisture out of the cake transforming it into some sort of dry and sandy biscuit, only redeemable as a base for an ice cream cake. So while there is more work needed there, it was a mad dash to Christopher’s Cake Shop who saved the day with their Salted Caramel creation.
Here is to Marc. First birthday feast of the year, many more to come!
Pumpkin seeds dip (Sikil Pak)
This dip is a traditional condiment from the Yucatan. The toasted pumpkin seeds give it a smokey nutty flavour and make it a delicious, dairy free alternative to guacamole. Some recipes recommend to grind the ingredients in a molcajete ( mexican mortar ) which apparently results in a creamy sort of a dip, but I used a food processor instead to save time. It made for a chunkier, pesto-like mixture which we enjoyed served with tortilla chips and vegetable dippers.
1 1/2 cups raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
2 medium tomatoes
1 white onion, sliced thickly
2 fresh jalapeño chiles ( or 1 habanero if you are game!)
1 tbsp vegetable oil ( I use rice bran oil, but any flavourless oil will do)
3 tbsp orange juice
2 cloves of garlic. minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp snipped fresh chives
1 tbsp chopped fresh coriander
A few cherry tomatoes, halved
- Preheat oven to 175C. Spread pumpkin seeds in a 38x25cm baking pan. Bake for 8 minutes or until toasted. Cool on a large sheet of foil. Increase oven temp to 230C.
- Place the tomatoes, onion slices and chiles in a baking pan, drizzle with oil and toss to coat. Roast for approx 10 minutes, until tender and a little charred. Cool slightly. Core tomatoes, remove stems and seeds from chiles, remove and discard any dry charred pieces of skin.
- Place pumpkin seeds in a food processor, process until ground. Add the roasted vegetables, orange juice, garlic and salt. Process until nearly smooth. Stir in chives and coriander. Top with cherry tomatoes.
- Serve with tortilla chips and dippers like cucumber spears, carrot sticks and halved baby capsicums.
This recipe is inspired by a slow cooked pulled pork recipe I read about in an old american magazine, I never attempted it on the boat as gas supplies were limited and slow cooking anything for for 4 hours or more was a luxury we could not afford. Of course, things are different in the house, and this particular dish simmered on the stove for 6 hours, happily giving off aromas of cumin, orange, garlic and cinnamon…
Serves 16, as part of a buffet (probably 10-12 as a main )
3 kgs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 5cm cubes
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 onions, peeled and quartered
8 garlic cloves, peeled
4 bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks
- Season the pork with cumin and salt and place in a dutch oven. Pack the meat in tightly so it fills the pot with no spaces. Split the oranges into quarters and squeeze the juice over the pork. Nestle the squeezed orange pieces into the pot, add the onion quarters, garlic cloves, bayleaves and cinnamon sticks, nestled into an even layer.
- Pour vegetable oil over, cover tightly and bring to the boil. Simmer, covered, on the stove for about 3 1/2 hours until the pork is fork tender. It may look like a big lump of meat stuck together, swimming in its own juice. Don’t panic, it will come apart easily.
- Using tongs, remove orange peels, onions, garlic, bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Keep simmering the meat uncovered for another 1 1/2 hour, or until most of the liquid is evaporated (do not be tempted to cook it on high heat, as chances are that you will burn the bottom of the pot and end up with dry meat – it happened to me once)
- Keep warm. Just before serving, scatter a generous amount of chopped coriander.
To eat in tacos: place 2-3 tablespoons of carnitas mixture in warm tortillas, top with guacamole, tomato salsa, and crumbed feta cheese or sour cream.
Mexican Roast potatoes
This is basically my mexican version of roast potatoes. Not too many spices, only cumin. coriander and chiles to taste. I used crumbled feta cheese as a good substitute for mexican queso.
Serves 16, as part of a buffet
1 cup vegetable oil
2 kgs red potatoes, cut into 2cm chunks
1 onion, peeled and sliced
1 tsp salt
2 tomatoes, quartered
1 or 2 jalapeno chiles (to taste)
2 tsp ground cumin
1 cup crumbed feta cheese
Chopped coriander to serve
- In a large bowl, coat the potatoes with vegetable oil and ground cumin. Transfer to a large baking tray and roast in a pre-heated oven 180C for about 30mn or until tender.
- Add onions, tomatoes and chile, stir to combine and bake for another 15 minutes until onions and tomatoes start to soften.
- Serve in a large bowl, sprinkled with feta cheese and a handful of coriander