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THE MOTHER OF ALL CHRISTMAS CAKES.

Photo by author

Mixing by hand

                          The one-and-a-half pound christmas cake

                                                RECIPE

There is a magic to Christmas cakes. It is a combination of that intoxicating aroma hitting your senses as you prepare to taste that first morsel.  It’s also knowing that each mouthful will have a slightly different flavour from the previous piece as the varying ingredients kick in. Each mouthful is a delicious little surprise packet.

This is the recipe for the Christmas Cake that my mother, and when she no longer could make it, my sister, @atticafinch, uses. Its origins are in the Original Women’s Weekly Cookbook. My copy of this invaluable book is tattered beyond repair and, truth to tell isn’t really mine. I gave it to His Nibs as a wedding present nearly 40 years ago. Of course all measurements in our cookbook are in the old imperial standard, and can cause confusion especially in recipes where ingredient measurements are critical to a successful outcome. This is one such recipe.

Over the years fundamental changes have been made to the recipe. They have resulted from personal taste and experience in what seems to work best.  But it is still fundamentally the Women’s Weekly Cookbook recipe – bless their cotton socks.

The one-and-a-half pound fruit cake is named because there is one-and-a-half pounds each of butter and brown sugar. This is the Arnie Schwarzenegger of fruit cakes. The recipe is full proof and tastes divine.

NOTE: This cake requires a square cake tin 30cm (12 inches) deep.

INGREDIENTS

3 kg of Mixed Fruit (6lbs 10oz)

1.25 kg combination of dried: apricots, peaches, pineapple, pears; glacé fruit & mixed peel (2lbs 8oz)

1 & 1/2 cups of Grand Marnier (This is the secret ingredient. It works better with the fruit).

750g of Butter  (1 and a 1/2 lbs)

750g of Brown Sugar (1 and a 1/2 lbs)

3 teaspoons of grated Lemon rind

3 teaspoons of grated Orange rind

3 teaspoons of Vanilla extract

6 tablespoons Marmalade (whiskey marmalade is nice)

12 Eggs

7 & 1/2 cups of sifted Plain Flour

1/2 teaspoon of Salt

3 teaspoons of All Spice

3/4 teaspoon of Cinnamon

3/4 teaspoon of Nutmeg

METHOD

Photo by the author

4.25kg of mixed fruit soaking in Grand Marnier

  •  The recipe calls for chopping the fruit, placing it all in a basin and pouring the alcoholic spirit over it. Then cover the basin. We let the fruit soak in the alcohol for a week. Once a day give the fruit and alcohol a stir. The best way to do this is with your hands. The benefit of that is, of course, being able to give them a good lick afterwards. NOTE: It takes up a lot of space in the fridge.
  • Cream the butter with the brown sugar, the grated fruit rinds, vanilla extract  and marmalade. We call this the goop.
  • Add the eggs to the goop, one egg at a time and mixing it in well each time.
Photo by the author

Creamed butter and sugar

NOTE: The next two steps require you to alternate between the two.

  •  After the eggs have been mixed into the goop, add some of the alcohol soaked fruit. NOT ALL AT ONCE.  Cup your hands and scoop out the first lot of fruit and put it into the goop. DON’T LICK YOUR FINGERS. You can do this after you have finished. Fold the fruit into the goop. The best and most effective method is to fold the fruit in with your hands. You will burn out any mixing engine unless it is a serious industrial cake mixer, or you will get blisters on your hands if you use a wooden spoon. In both instances they won’t be as effective.
  • Fold in a cup of the sifted flour. Again using your hands.
  • REPEAT. Fold fruit in the goop.  Fold Flour in the goop. Fruit. Flour. Repeat until there are no further ingredients. Mix well. Make sure there is no dry flour left in the goop.

WARNING: This is messy as you will be up to your elbows in deliciously smelling goop.  A kitchen hand to help with the supply of the ingredients during last two steps is highly recommended. Be careful the assistant doesn’t try and sneak a little bit of what is happening in the large bowl or plastic bucket in which your cake is being mixed.

Photo by the author

Into the tin

  •  After mixing all your ingredients you are ready to fill your lined tin.

For steps on how to LINE YOUR CAKE TIN see below.

  •  Fill your tin with the deliciously smelling, can’t wait, intoxicating mixed goop.
  • To make sure your mixture settles and has no air bubbles in it you need to drop the tin. I know this step sounds perverse. Get an old bath towel, double it over and put it on the floor. Allow the tin to drop on to the towel from about 12 inches, oh sorry, 30 cm from the floor. Do this a couple of times.
  • To glaze the top of the cake mixture.  Just before you pop the cake into the oven smooth the top of the cake by wetting your hands with water and gently rubbing it over the top of the cake mixture.  It ensures there is a nice even cake top and also gives a semi-gloss sheen to the finished cake.
Photo by the author.

Glazing top of cake

  • Pop it into a pre-heated oven. The temperature is a slow oven for the first hour at 150C and then turn down the oven to a very slow oven at 120C for a further 5.5 to 6 hours.

NOTE: If you have a fan forced or fan assisted oven you will need to adjust your temperatures according to the instruction manual.

FURTHER IMPORTANT NOTE: Every hour turn you cake 90′ clockwise ensuring that your cake cooks evenly.

Photo by author

Into the oven

  • After the requisite cooking time check that the cake is cooked by poking the centre of the cake with a skewer or a thin-bladed knife. If it comes out clean it is cooked through.
  • As soon as the cake is out of the oven leave it in the tin to cool, but immediately wrap it, cake tin and all, in aluminium foil to stop the top of the cake from hardening.
  • When the cake has cooled take it out of its tin, wrap the whole (including the grease proof and brown paper) in aluminium foil, and place it in a huge air-tight cake tin.

LINING YOUR CAKE TIN:

 

Do this before you start cooking your cake.

You will need to line your tin. The easiest tins to line are square ones (which is just as well as square cakes are easier to cut into equal slabs). The cooking time for the cake is a long one and the paper that lines the tin protects your cake mixture goop, and ensures a more evenly cooked cake.

  • Line the tin with two layers of brown paper.
  • The next layer is one of greaseproof paper on which you will pour your cake goop. The greaseproof paper has to be 4cm (1&1/2 ins) above the height of the sides of the tin. The cake will rise.

You may wonder why we make such a large cake. This cake lasts the family for ages, well into February. There are no nuts in it as nuts go rancid quite quickly.

It also becomes a source of great Xmas presents. Cut the cake into individual slabs, package them up in a nice cake tin (a Christmassy one if you can), and you have the best of gifts you can give anyone.

I have the recipes for the Quarter-Pound, Half-Pound and One-Pound Christmas Cakes. The procedures for cooking the cakes are exactly the same as I’ve outlined above, however, the ingredient amounts and cooking times vary. Let me know and I’ll happily work out the different measurements for all the ingredients, as well as the applicable cooking times. If you require this in imperial measurements let me know and I’ll happily provide them.

Christmas Cake straight out of the oven.

Christmas Cake straight out of the oven.

 

 

ENJOY.

 

And, for the first time this year, Merry Christmas.

 

 

 

EXTRA TIP:    We cut this cake a few days after it had been cooked and it still had not been properly rested. If you do this your first few pieces will crumble. We don’t care. We can’t wait.  A week later the cake cuts beautifully and tastes even better. This year’s Christmas Cake is a triumph. It also helps to cut your cake with a serrated knife because of the variety and density of the ingredients.

 

A finished morsel ready to eat. Delicious. Perfect.

A finished morsel ready to eat. Moist, full of flavour. Perfection.

MY SPAGHETTI MARINARA

My Spaghetti Marinara

My Spaghetti Marinara
Photo taken by me.

My first cook book was the Commonsense Cookery Book which was the high school text for the compulsory cooking classes all girls had to endure back in the dark ages when I went to school. I remember the first cooking class I had as a 13 year old in which we made savory mince. It was a glutinous inedible mess. Those classes were unspeakably dreadful, as were the  compulsory sewing classes.

The delight I take in cooking probably comes, as it does with most foodies, from watching a grandmother or mother bake, helping out at the appropriate times, and licking the bowl as part of the process. What has always staggered me is that my school’s compulsory cooking classes didn’t turn me off cooking for life. It certainly did with sewing. To this day I refuse to even sew on a button.

I threw away the Commonsense Cookery Book decades ago as a hated reminder of those awful days.  It was a foolish thing to do as this cookbook was a treasure trove of old- fashioned quintessentially English recipes. I know of at least three or four recipes that I want to try. They were, of course, contained in that book. It means I’m going to have to explore Berkelow’s or Glebe Books in an attempt to track down a second hand version. The extraordinary thing is it’s still in print.

The second cookbook in my life was the Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook. I gave it to His Nibs as a wedding present much to his amusement as well as that of our friends. He become a reasonably good short order cook, and used to make an apricot souffle which was delicious. Some 40 years later the same tattered and food stained copy of the Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook complete with imperial  measurements and notes in the margin, is dragged from the shelf for occasional use.

This Marinara Sauce originated in the Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook, but like most recipes I use there are quite a few amendments and additions made over the decades. But like all Australian Women’s Weekly Cookbook recipes I’ve ever tried, it is fail safe.

METHOD

  1. 200 grams green prawns
  2. 100 grams baby octopus
  3.  100 grams of scallops
  4. 100 grams smoked mussels (you can buy these in a container usually swimming in marinade, rinse them thoroughly before using them.  You need to get rid of the marinade flavour as it can be very vinegary,  but these smoked mussels are to die for).
  5.  100 grams of fish (your choice). I use flake. It is strong, doesn’t disintegrate during the cooking process, and takes on the flavours of the other seafood.
  6. 30 grams butter
  7.  Red Onion, chopped finely
  8. 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  9.  1 can crushed tomatoes
  10. 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  11. 1 cup stock
  12. 1 dessert spoon sugar
  13. tablespoons parsley, chopped
  14. 1 tablespoon  basil, chopped
  15. 1 dessert spoon mint, chopped
  16.  400 grams spaghetti ( I have to confess when I made this the other night I used an entire packet of spaghetti, all 750 grams, and there was plenty of sauce. There were five adults who had had a very long day, and we were all slightly peckish).

METHOD

  1. Chop up all the seafood ingredients into small bite size bits with the exception of the mussels and the scallops.
  2. Melt the butter and add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is soft.
  3. Add the can of crushed tomatoes, tomato paste and stock. Bring to the boil then simmer until the sauce has been reduced and started to thicken. This should take about 10-15 minutes. Add the sugar (it tempers the acidity of the tomatoes).
  4. Add your seafood, starting with the chopped octopus, a minute later add chopped fish and prawns, then finally add the scallops and mussels. All up it will take 3 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and add the herbs stirring them through the sauce, leaving some extra parsley as pretty garnish.
  5.  Pasta should be cooked in accordance with the instructions on the packet, or if fresh from shops such as the Pasta House in Leichhardt, you will find that it takes only 3 minutes of so to cook. Drain the pasta. Serve the sauce over the pasta.
  6. Add parsley garnish.

I know that it is not de rigueur to add cheese to a marinara dish, but there is always some ground Parmesan cheese on my table for those who like to add it into the mix. We also have lovely local crusty bread to go with it.

On the matter of wine His Nibs says to have a chilled Rose if you’re having this dish in the summer.  In the winter he tends to choose a pinot noir.

This photo was the finished dish before all five of us fell on it. There wasn’t so much as a strand of spaghetti left. I know. Oink! Oink!

Enjoy. We did.

YUK BALLS: a cri de coeur. The Brussels Sprout: a cry for help.

May 9th, 2011

I have never met a brussels sprout I liked.

I know brussels sprouts are supposed to be good for you being chocka block full of anti-oxidants, minerals, vitamins and having no negative impact in terms of fats and cholesterol. They just taste ‘erky-perky’!

Brussels sprouts have been forever known in our household as yuk balls.  As children, my sister and I would howl the place down when confronted with a bowl of brussels sprouts as being the green vegetable to be consumed as part of the evening meal.  Please note that I use the word confronted rather than presented.Photo taken by Eric Hunt. 24/10/2006

I describe the vegetable as green advisedly, as it was so overcooked that the only way Bet, my mother,  could keep said vegetable green was with the liberal application of bicarbonate of soda.

Bet was a powerhouse. She was a dynamic, unique, engaging, uncompromising woman of integrity who encouraged my sister and I to believe that we could be anything that we wanted to be at a time when that was decidedly unfashionable. Cooking, however, was not her long suit.

So I have spent all my adult life avoiding yuk balls.  These miniature cabbage balls of bitterness sit in the F & V section of my supermarket daring me to play with them. For four decades I have avoided taking on the challenge.

Feb 1st, 2012

My intention behind writing this piece was to find and collect recipes that make the seemingly inedible edible

I wrote this before I started to tweet. Since then I’ve developed a friendship with a number of the artwiculati who are also foodies. A discussion arose about brussels sprouts, and it quickly divided into those who, like me, gag at the mere thought of yuk balls for dinner, and those who love them. Recipes and methods of cooking sprouts were offered up as examples. Here they are. Feel free to add to the list and discussion.

VIVIENNE’S RECIPE for ROASTING BRUSSELS SPROUTS in GARLIC

@vivchook

Vivienne is a very talented and much loved member of the artwiculati. She seems to have endless time and patience with those of us who still don’t know what the hell we’re doing. To be “mwahed” by @vivchook brings a smile to the dial. Here are her suggestions.

  • Cross cut the bases of the Brussels sprouts
  • Fill with a sliver of garlic
  • Roll in Olive Oil
  • Roast for 40 mins @ 190C (I’m assuming this is a conventional oven, minus 10C if fan forced).
  • The outer sprout will be crispy and nutty, the inner nutty and garlicy
  • Season to taste.

Vivienne also suggested cutting  a cross in the base of the sprout, inserting the sliver of garlic and then standing the base of the sprout in a pool of balsamic vinegar for an hour or two.

SILIA’S SUGGESTION: BRUSSELS SPROUTS topped with SHAVED PARMIGIANO

@SJHatzi

Silia is the numero uno of artwiculati players. She is seriously brilliant in her command and manipulation of  language. She plays with words like a sculptor would play with plastercine. She tempers her brilliance with being one of the nicest people with whom you can chat about anything. Like Ms Chook, Silia makes you feel welcome.

Silia suggests roasting the sprouts in the oven and topping them with shaved Parmigiano.

She also gave me a link to simplyrecipes.com. It is as follows:

simplyrecipes.com/recipe#5D1EF6

Good Luck

Enjoy

 

 

 

MY KEDGEREE

This is one of the great comfort foods. We have it at anytime of the year irrespective of the season. I first cooked kedgeree about 30 years ago. Since then I have played around with the recipe until I created the one that was not only easy to cook, but was the one I liked most. Kedgeree has now been established as a tradition for Boxing Day brunch. My children insist. It is also great party fare. I always cook it when I’m entertaining and have spare copies of the recipe to give to guests who request it.

Photo by the author

My Kedgeree

The first time I ate kedgeree was in 1980 when His Nibs and I were doing the ‘grand European tour’ for the first time. We stayed at a disgracefully expensive converted old manor house in St Albans complete with its own lake, ponds, amazing gardens along with an assortment of ducks, peacocks and swans that loudly proclaimed their ownership of the grounds. As part of the breakfast menu was kedgeree, a dish I had never even heard of before much less tasted. One mouthful began a lifelong romance with this eccentric dish.

I came home and began to try to reproduce the dish from memory, experimenting with different ingredients and alternative cooking methods until I was satisfied with the end result. There were no recipes for kedgeree in any of the Australian  cook books of the time.

To describe kedgeree is difficult. It needs to be tasted but here goes nothing. Kedgeree is curried rice with vegetable and smoked fish, finished with chopped coriander, boiled eggs and toasted nuts. It sounds disgusting but is a taste sensation. Kedgeree was created in India during the time of the Raj for the Scottish regiments posted there who were missing their salted fish dishes for breakfast. Although its origins are in India it is considered a Scottish dish, but it is really a heady mixture of two totally opposing food cultures coming together in one scrumptious multicultural match made in heaven.

Kedgeree is usually cooked on top of the stove, as you are supposed to do with risotto, but I don’t. I cook this dish in the oven. Truth be told I also cook risotto in the oven much to the horror of purists and food fascists, but that is another story.

RECIPE

INGREDIENTS:

  •  500-600 grams of smoked cod
  • 1&1/2 cups Basmati Rice
  • 1 Red Onion
  • 1 red Capsicum
  • 1 yellow or orange Capsicum
  • 1 heaped teaspoon of minced garlic
  • 1 dessertspoon of curry paste (I prefer red curry)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 100 grams peas or beans (I prefer peas)
  • 2-3 cups Stock
  • 75 grams butter
  • Parsley chopped
  • Coriander chopped
  • 6 eggs boiled and halved
  • 100 grams almond flakes toasted

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Place the smoked cod in a dish and cover with milk. Allow the fish to sit in the milk for a couple of hours to allow the salt and colouring to leach from the fish.
  • Dice the onion and mince the garlic. Chop the capsicums into bite size pieces.
  • Melt 50 grams of butter, throw in the onions, garlic and capsicum and saute until they begin to soften. Stir on the curry paste and cumin and stir it all around.
  • Add the remaining butter and stir in the rice until the rice is nicely coated with butter and spice.
  • Add stock and seasoning. Bring it all to the boil and bubble away for a couple of minutes.
  • Put the dish into a preheated oven, 170C for fan-forced, 180C for conventional ovens.
  • It will be about 20 minutes for Basmati Rice, 30 minutes for brown rice.
  • While the rice is cooking in the oven take the cod out of the milk and pat dry and then shove it into the microwave for a minute or so. Flake the hot fish into bite sized bits making sure you get any bones. Cook the peas in the microwave for a minute or so. 5 to 10 minutes from the end of the rice’s cooking time add both fish and peas to the rice in the oven and stir it through.
  • Toast the almond flakes
  • Halve the hard boiled eggs
  • Chop the parsley and coriander
  • Spoon out onto a warmed platter. Arrange the egg halves on top of the dish with a sprinkling of almond flakes on top, followed by chopped parsley.
NOTES:
  • We have one member of the family who hates coriander so I put coriander in its own little dish for those who want it.
  • For those who like creamy curries there is also the option of adding cream (or yoghurt) to the dish, something I tend not to do. But 2 dessert spoons of thickened cream or 2 dessert spoons of yoghurt will add a creaminess to the dish without being too cloying.

ENJOY!

BROWN RICE SALAD FOR THOSE WHO HATE RICE SALADS WITH A PASSION UNEQUALLED IN THIS WORLD.

I hate rice salads. His Nibs loves rice salads.

I hate brown rice in particular. His Nibs loves rice, especially brown rice.

His Nibs hates pumpkin, capsicum and rocket lettuce. I, of course, love all three.

We’ve been together forty years – it’s a miracle really!

For the past decade or so I have experimented with every conceivable kind of rice salad recipe. This is a mish mash of so many different recipe combinations I’ve lost track.

This recipe works for us. It is a modern miracle approaching biblical significance.

You can eat it cold, room temperature or heated. It is one of the best comfort foods. Like ‘THE SALAD FOR THOSE WHO HATE SALADS’, this RICE SALAD flies off the plate when we entertain.

Friends have requested this recipe for some months now. I apologise for the delay. The weather now lends itself for this dish, although I eat it heated up during winter as a comfort food.

RECIPE

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup of brown rice
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 1 yellow capsicum
  • ½ pumpkin, preferably Qld blue
  • 1 Spanish onion
  • 60gm of pine nuts (almond slivers/flakes option)
  • Rocket  lettuce or Baby spinach
  • dried basil (I know I’ll explain later)
  • olive oil.

The Brown Rice Salad

  1. Chop your capsicums and pumpkin into small bight size pieces.
  2. Roughly chop you onion.
  3. Put them into a baking dish with olive oil. Swish them around to make sure the vegetables are well coated with oil, and then sprinkle them with a healthy large pinch of dried basil. (Dried basil works better in this dish, for some mysterious reason, than the herbs I grow. They’re stronger and more aromatic). Season with pepper and salt.
  4. Put them in the oven at whatever is the right temperature for your type of oven. Mine is fan forced so it’s 170C. Do them to your personal preference. I like my capsicums well roasted; my pumpkin I pull out early because I want it to disintegrate and become so mushy it coats the rice. I bake the pumpkin because it tastes better when baked rather than boiled or steamed, and I want that sweet roast pumpkin flavour.
  5. Dry roast your nuts.
  6. Boil the crap out of the brown rice. Follow the instructions on the pack. If you do the fast boil method, then it’ll take 20-25 minutes.
  7. Take a healthy handful of rocket .
  8. Combine all ingredients in a bowl. The rocket will wilt, which is what it is supposed to do, so don’t panic.  Stir ingredients through.
  9. You don’t need any dressing as the oil and the pumpkin coat the rice. MAGIC!

 A MUST.

You must taste test the dish at this stage to make sure it is as you want it to be. Be warned, however, your other half may deem this his right, and there will be a struggle over the taste testing step in the process.

ENJOY!

Joan’s Hearty Chicken and Mushroom Pie

RECIPE

JOAN’S HEARTY CHICKEN and MUSHROOM PIE.

The one really brilliant thing about the weather turning colder is the food. Slow roasts, stews, casseroles and pies can now be put on the menu as legitimate items, and fuck the diets.

We had dinner recently with a friend, John Bok, a bloody good journalist, but more importantly, a 24-carat decent human being.  I hadn’t seen him for 30 years and we ate, drank and talked long into the night.  It was great, an evening spent around a dinner table – nothing better.

I have been faffing about for ages with different chicken recipes trying to create a chicken pie, which isn’t bland as some of them can be, so poor John was the guinea pig in yet another pie experiment.

The best chicken pie I have ever eaten was in a pub in Stratford-on-Avon on a cold and windy English summer’s day. The pie was rich with the heady mix of thyme and tarragon; all ingredients cooked in perfect harmony.  Most recipes only seem to have thyme as the herb of choice. Since the Stratford experience I have added tarragon to the mix, and played around with the mushrooms in an attempt to make the pie even richer.

I think I’ve done it. I made two pies. One was for dinner with John, one for the family to sample.  They loved it. So did I.  Post it was the instruction. I am doing as I’ve been told.  I hope you enjoy it.

INGREDIENTS

¾ – 1kg                       skinless chicken thigh fillets

Seasoned flour

Olive Oil (if you must)

Butter (my preference)

6-8                              slices of bacon

100 g                          dried porcini mushrooms

100 g                          mushrooms of your choosing

200 ml                       stock (water in which you soak your dried porcini mushrooms)

1                                  leek

200 ml                      white wine

1 tsp                           thyme

1 tsp                           tarragon

1 tbsp                         parsley

Short crust pastry – sufficient to line a pie dish as well as have a pastry lid

Pepper and Salt

Egg wash (or milk)

Place your dried porcini mushrooms in water to soak. Soaking the mushrooms can take quite a few hours, as they need to rehydrate.

Dice your chicken fillets. Toss the diced chicken in seasoned flour. I use those Glad snap-lock bags for doing this; the kitchen and I are not then covered in flour.

Heat the butter or oil or a combination of the two. I use a sauté pan, which is so large it is almost too heavy to sauté, and is brilliant for cooking this sort of stuff on the stovetop. So much for the digression – heat the butter or the oil etc. and cook your seasoned chicken pieces in batches until they’re a golden brown colour and put aside for later.

Cut bacon into strips or bight size bits.

KEEP THE WATER YOU SOAKED THE PORCINI MUSHROOMS IN AS STOCK. Drain the porcini mushrooms, pat dry with paper towel, and slice. Get your other cleaned mushrooms and slice.

Wash thoroughly and thinly slice your leek.

Add butter (or oil) to the same pan, and cook your bacon, mushrooms and leek until they start to change colour and become softer.

Add herbs, add white wine and bring to the boil. Add chicken and the stock, season with pepper and salt.  Bring to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.

When I’m making pies I do not blind bake the short crust pastry. I spoon the cooked mixture straight into the raw pastry base lining a pie dish. The chicken will continue to cook along with the pastry. Put the lid on the pie and brush the lid with either milk or an egg wash to glaze it.

Put the pie in a pre-heated oven 180C for 30-40 minutes approx. Ovens are now so different from conventional electric, to gas, to fan-forced, to fan assisted; it is hard to stipulate a temperature or even the duration. Be guided by the operating instructions of your oven, and get to know your oven. I’m barely on nodding acquaintance terms with my steam oven but I’ll get there.

When the pastry is that beautiful golden brown colour you are done.

I served it with mashed potato and steamed beans with dry roasted pine nuts.  Using the water, in which you soaked the mushrooms as stock, was serendipitous. I had been making a pie, and had run out stock, so, with fingers crossed, used the mushroom infused water. It made the pie heartier, more flavoursome, and I’ve been doing it this way ever since. This pie will serve 4-6 persons.

ENJOY.

J.

The salad for those who hate salads

I hate salads!

Whenever I am presented with a salad to eat I feel like a little bunny from a Beatrix Potter story. I have ordered salads, such as caesar or nicoise, when I am pretending to be on a diet, and bloody righteous I’ve felt about it as I grazed on the collection of lettuce and other raw, but very good for you, ingredients.

Bottom line – salads are not my food of first choice.

I’ve spent years sampling salads trying to find that elusive one I wanted to make rather than had to make. The following recipe is known in the family as just ‘the salad’. It is a potpourri of different salads with which I have experimented over the years, each one being a curate’s egg.  The salad has become the staple dish in our family now for zonks, and flies off the plate irrespective of whether I am making it just for the family or larger numbers.

The salad for those who hate salads

INGREDIENTS

  • Mixed salad leaves, we usually use a combination of baby spinach and rocket
  • Basil dressing *
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 1 yellow capsicum
  • 2 or 3 Roma tomatoes (optional, as one member in our family reacts to tomatoes)
  • ½ pumpkin
  • 1 large Spanish onion (optional, as the family says the recipe doesn’t need it but I prefer its inclusion).
  • Haloumi cheese  (if you don’t like Haloumi cheese, and many people don’t, try goat’s cheese instead).

RECIPE

Create a base of salad leaves on your serving plate.

Make your BASIL DRESSING* (see below)

Slice your capsicums, tomatoes, pumpkin and onion. Put them in a baking dish with olive oil, and add some dried basil and seasoning. Shove them in the oven at 180C and roast.  This should take anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour depending how well done you like your vegies roasted. The pumpkin may take longer as we like them very well done for this salad.

The vegetables can be roasted earlier and left. I often serve them cold or at room temperature; if you want a warm salad then give them a quick spin in the microwave. Now days there is always a container of roasted vegetables in my fridge for use in dishes such as this one.

Get the Haloumi cheese and dry fry it. When cooked, dice it into small cubes.

Sprinkle the basil dressing on the salad mix. Scatter roast vegies on the dressed leaves, and top it all off by scattering the grilled and diced Haloumi (or crumbled goat’s cheese).

This dish looks pretty on the plate, and tastes even better.

*BASIL DRESSING:

I cheat when I make basil dressing. Sister Ruth, a bloody terrific cook in her own right, first suggested this cheat to me.

There are basil pesto dips, such as “Chris’s”, “Wattle Valley” or “Copperpot”,  you can now buy at any supermarket. They are usually comprised of the basil paste with additional ingredients including some ground Parmesan cheese and crushed nuts. I use these dips as bases for pesto sauces when I’m cooking last minute pasta or, as in this case, a basil salad dressing. It is the quality and quantity of olive oil that you add to the pesto turning the paste into a sauce or dressing that is the trick.

For the salad dressing, it should be a heaped tablespoon of basil pesto paste and a 1/4 cup of olive oil.  Mix through. Ultimately it should be according to your taste.

You can keep any leftover dressing in the fridge as it lasts for ages.

ENJOY.     J.

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