Friday, 30 December 2011

Rice Paper Rolls

I was amazed to find that I hadn't yet blogged this recipe, as it's become such a family favourite over the last few years. It's a meal best prepared by two or three people, as there are many stages that can be performed in parallel. After a couple of times making it, you'll find it takes less than an hour, and it's also a lot of fun!

Rice paper can be purchased in Asian grocery stores - usually one pack is enough for eight people, and costs only a few pounds / dollars. The rolls end up being about as long as half the diameter of the rice paper, so if you want small ones, buy small rice paper; large, buy large!

You can use whatever dipping sauce you like; I often use satay, but hoisin, plum or even just a little light soy sauce would all work perfectly. The filling ingredients can also be varied easily, and you don't need to make all of them the same. We often serve these rolls with hameul pajeon in a kind of Pan-Asian feast, but they work equally well with steamed rice or a light Asian-style salad, or just alone (and preferably, a bit smaller than shown here) as starters.

Instead of giving a guide to making an exact number of rolls (impossible!), I give examples of fillings, which you can use in equal volumes and just scale how much you cook depending on how many people you have. Don't feel like you need to include all of the ingredients, just pick the flavours you feel like using. The ones in the picture use carrot, cucumber, rice noodles, tonkatsu, mint and coriander.

Filling ingredients:
  • fresh herbs: mint, coriander, basil
  • cool crisp shredded vegetables: carrot, cucumber, lettuce
  • protein: tonkatsu, cold shredded beef, crispy duck, cold lemon chicken, deep-fried marinaded tofu, fresh tofu, tamagoyaki (sweet Japanese omelette), cooked shitake mushrooms, cooked prawns
  • carbs: cold rice, cold coconut rice, cold sweet rice, thick azuki bean paste, cooked rice noodles, fried rice noodles
You will also need:
  • a stack of dry rice paper rounds
  • hot water (boil a kettle and leave for at least 30 seconds)
  • a frying pan, deep enough to take some hot water and wide enough to easily place in and remove the rice paper
  • soft tongs, a wide slotted spatula, or asbestos fingers
  • two large, clean, flat plates

Start by preparing all of your ingredients - wash and pick leaves from herbs, shred the vegetables, cook your protein and ready your carbs. It's helpful to arrange these in small bowls or plates around the work surface where you will be making the rolls. Prepare any dipping sauces ahead; chill if needed.

Pour hot water into your frying pan and place a single rice paper round in it. Leave for 30 seconds or so, until malleable, then remove using the tongs, spatula, or just your fingers. If it tears easily as you remove it, you have left it in too long, so discard and leave the next one in for less time. If it is not easily flexible and malleable, put it back in. If the water goes cold, discard it and refresh with new hot water. If you run out of water, top it up! It's really nice to have one person readying rice paper and one or two others filling the rolls.

Place the ready rice paper round on one of the plates and add your fillings. I found this beautiful guide to rolling them perfectly, so check it out if you're not sure how much to add or how to roll. When it's all rolled up, place on the other plate. If you need to wait before serving them, make sure to sprinkle them with water and cover with cling film, or cover with a very damp teatowel, so that they don't dry out. They will last several hours unserved, but if you refrigerate them over night, the rice paper has a tendency to stick to itself, so they may tear as you pull them apart. If you really needed to keep them and not let them tear, you could put cling film between each one, but it's a bit of a waste of plastic :) Just eat them and enjoy!

Thursday, 29 December 2011


I'm re-purposing snorkel gear in the kitchen.

Ma plus jeune soeur a passé les derniers mois à Paris sur un placement, au cours de laquelle elle a échantillonné de nombreux délices français, y compris de grandes quantités de vin rouge ;) Son petit ami sait une excellente recette de la pizza, de sa région à la frontière espagnole.

Translation: this is totally delish!

  • your favourite pizza dough
  • three large white onions
  • 20-25 anchovies
  • 3-4 tablespoons of capers, drained
  • a couple handfuls of green olives, halved
  • a few pinches of dried oregano

Finely slice the onions, preferably into rings. Fry gently for 15 minutes, until golden, caramelised and soft. Roll out your pizza dough as thinly as possible and place on a pizza stone. Was the anchovies if they are particularly salty. Lay over the fried onions, then decorate with the rest of the ingredients, sprinkling over the oregano at the end, then season well with black pepper. Bake for 15 minutes or so, until the pizza has risen and the onion edges are just beginning to curl.

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

A Vegan Break

After a long hot day on a wine tour boat (or booze cruise, apparently!), we needed a light and refreshing meal. So I made a couple of pumpkin scones, threw together a green salad spiked with cold barbequed sweetcorn cut from the cob, and a simple basil and tomato salad. Something to cool my very hot parents down!

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Nectarine Clafoutis

This dessert goes a little way toward explaining how our family managed to eat one egg each, per day, over the Christmas week! It's also totally delicious, and wonderful timing for an Australian Christmas as the stone fruit season is very much in swing. It's good to cook it in shallower, wider pan than shown here, as we had to keep it in for an extra 20 minutes to cook through the centre.

I like how the empty bowls are crowded around
waiting for their turn to be filled :)
  • 300g nectarines (about 5-6)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup honey or caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup flour

Heat the oven to 180C and make sure there is space in the centre. Grease the dish you're using, and slice the nectarines into medium-sized wedges, dropping them in as you finish.

Whisk the eggs and honey (or sugar) together using a hand blender, until well-combined and a little airy. Add the milk and cream, and whisk again, then carefully combine in the flour, stopping as soon as the flour is no longer visible. Pour the batter over the fruit, and bake in the preheated oven for 30-40 minutes.

Lemon and Mustard Seed Rice

I first ate this out in the Murchison desert at the excellent Boolardy station, after a long day working on our telescope. We were very well looked-after and the food was amazing. One of the dishes particularly stuck in my mind because it was a really nice way to make rice, subtle but tasty at the same time. A wonderful side dish and somewhere between steamed and egg-fried rice in preparation time. I've scaled this to two people.

  • half a white onion (optional)
  • a ladelful of rice - about 100g
  • 2-3 ladelfuls of vegetable or chicken stock
  • a lemon
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 2-3 peppercorns
  • seeds from inside a cardamom pod
  • two tsp black mustard seeds
  • a large chunk of butter

If you feel like including onion (depends on what you're serving this with), finely chop the onion and fry gently in vegetable oil for 5-10 minutes until golden and translucent. Zest the lemon and set the zest aside. Juice the lemon into a separate bowl. Add the rice, stir, and then add the stock, juice and bay leaves. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes, until the rice is tender and the liquid is absorbed.

Meanwhile, crush the spices gently in a mortar and pestle until a little broken up - not pounded into powder. Melt the butter in a small frying pan and add the zest and spices, then fry for a minute or so, until fragrant. Stir through the cooked rice, taste for seasoning, and serve.

Giant Red Snapper with Mandarin

Another hot day, another great evening to bring out the barbie and some Great Australian Seafood! The local fishmonger was selling an absolutely enormous red snapper, which we figured would be enough for six hungry people. I'd bought some great juicy mandarins in the market and thought a citrus-y tang might be appropriate. So we cut it into thin slices and laid them on and in the fish, then put it on the barbecue for a good half an hour - twenty minutes in we were ready to eat, but the fish was just so huge that it still wasn't done :)

It doesn't even fit on my largest serving platter!
The mandarin pieces went lovely and golden, and were edible even down to the peel, if a little awkward. Maybe this dish could be iterated a bit, but it was delicious with the lemon-mustard-seed rice and yet more pepper-and-pomegranate salad.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Dinner Down Under

This was the second meal I had actually planned out a little in advance of everyone arriving. I wanted to keep some of the ingredients and themes that we often use in our usual Christmases, like turkey, parsnips, brussels sprouts and potatoes, but transform them into food more suitable for the expected summer heat.

The starter we only modified a little by using smoked Tasmanian trout, but we stuck to Philadelphia cream cheese (despite the outlandish Ozzie round pot!) on some focaccia left over from our epic homecoming meal on the 23rd.

For which of course we opened another bottle of bubbly! Next came the main meal, the big one, Christmas dinner! Which we managed to eat at a comfortable 4pm, which wasn't exactly planned, but wasn't unwelcome either :) The biggest variable was the BBQ'd turkey, a new experience for all of us...

We had booked the turkey a few weeks previously and asked the butcher to remove the main breastbone and leave the rest of the pieces intact, skin-on. So we were able to whack on a big stockpot of turkey stock for future turkey soup, almost immediately, and then laid the rest out on the BBQ, foil underneath and a few bacon slices on top. It took about an hour to cook, and then a few minutes to rest, and was possibly the best turkey we've ever had! Very moist and flavourful, with just a little smokiness from the BBQ and lovely crisp bacon to serve alongside. Not least because my oven wouldn't fit a whole turkey, I now can't imagine cooking it any other way.

To serve with it, we made:
  • Soph's BBQ potatoes;
  • Roast parsnip, beetroot and toasted pumpkin seed salad;
  • Kiwi, avocado, tomato, basil and dill salsa;
  • Stir-fried brussels sprouts with sesame seeds and soy sauce.
We also had cranberry sauce but unfortunately couldn't make our own, as I was unable to source fresh or frozen cranberries anywhere in the months leading up. Next time I'll get the family to smuggle them through in their hand luggage ;)

Usually to finish we have a Christmas pudding, no matter where we are or what we're doing. But the SO and I simply hadn't had time to make one this year, and weren't really sure that we would be able to face it in the heat. Instead, mum had a wonderful idea of soaking raisins in sugar and the strong sherry we usually use in the Christmas pudding for a few days, then serving them over vanilla ice cream with the sweet alcoholic sauce. A divine way to end a fantastic meal.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Christmas Eve Down Under

Following a tradition established years ago in our family, we tend to make an exciting and rather gourmet meal for Christmas Eve, usually trying out something new, often related to the region we're in. In France, we had bouillabaisse, in Norway, reindeer, and here of course, we have kangaroo!

Starters are a selection of oysters au nature, with parsley, lemon, Tabasco and Pernod ready to add. Even mum bravely downed a couple, and we enjoyed a few glasses of bubbly to go with.

Next came the kangaroo, which we seared on the BBQ for just 50 seconds per side, leaving it beautifully rare and tender. We served it on a bed of lentils, bacon and parsley, with our 'classic' (i.e. we've been making it every Christmas for three years now) red pepper & pomegranate salad, and mashed potatoes with mustard.

To finish, we had a delicious flourless chocolate cake, the recipe for which I googled around for until I found something that looked almost right.

I should have taken a better photo, as it was an absolutely wonderful cake, moist and delicate, with a delicious almondy aroma from the almond meal. But we certainly couldn't have decorated it, as it was very rich and needed to be served with nothing more than a cup of strong coffee. Next time I make it, I'll try to get a nice photo of a single slice with a strawberry or other cheeky photographic aid for contrast. In the meantime, here's the recipe, which we found served 12, rather than 8!

  • 1 tbsp of strong coffee
  • 100g butter
  • 150g dark chocolate
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs at room temperature (eggs with a minimum weight of 59g)
  • 170g (3/4 cup) caster sugar
  • 200g almond meal (ground almonds)

Make a espresso for your tablespoon of strong coffee. Drink any leftovers.

Grease the side and base of a 20cm diameter (inside top measurement) round, preferably springform, cake pan. Line base and side of the pan with non-stick baking paper. (Mum showed me an awesome method for this; I must post photographs next time I do it.) 

Place butter, chocolate, vanilla and coffee in a pyrex bowl and microwave, stirring every minute, for five minutes, or until chocolate and butter have melted. Set aside to cool.

Separate the egg whites from the egg yolks, taking care not to break the yolks. Using electric hand-held beaters or an electric mixer, beat egg whites with about half the sugar in a large, clean bowl. Beat until soft peak stage (when the beater is lifted, a peak will form and then droop over). Or slightly more, if you're not ready with the other stage.

Gently fold the yolks into the cooled chocolate mixture. Break up any lumps of almond meal before stirring it into the chocolate mixture. Pour the chocolate mixture into the egg white mixture and fold gently to combine, stopping as soon as you can see no further large pockets of pure egg white. (Don't burst all of the lovely bubbles!)

Pour mixture into prepared pan and bake for 40 minutes. Remove the cake from the oven and cover with a clean tea towel, allowing it to cool in the pan. Serve slices of the cake with whipped cream, berries, ice cream, chocolate sauce or simply dusted with icing sugar. Or just with more coffee.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Pasta Primavera, Australian Tiger-Prawn-Style

After the trip to Margaret River, we drove back and hit the shops, then hosted a big meal for the extended family here in Perth. We had just missed the spring, so instead of the usual primavera ingredients, we used broccoli, peas, green beans, and roasted red peppers, deskinned. As an Ozzie bonus, we were able to buy big packs of giant tiger prawns, which when chopped added a nice meaty component throughout, and made beautiful serving decorations. Great fun, although I was exhausted by the end of the meal, after getting up at 4am to take photographs of Margaret River at dawn!

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Margaret River Tabbouleh

We had an absolutely brilliant time in Margaret River, mostly cooking in the townhouse at the rather excellent resort at which we stayed. There was a shared barbecue next to the pool, which we made full use of, especially BBQing some really tasty steaks. We also made lots of salads, and had big French-style lunches - well, we eat less cheese nowadays! Mum made a great tabbouleh, which we served with roast red peppers, a cabbage and apple salad and a simple green salad.


  • 300g cous-cous (dry weight)
  • 100g olives
  • a block of feta (~150g)
  • a tin of chick peas
  • flat-leaf parsley
  • juice of a lemon

Cook the cous-cous according to its packet instructions. Stone and halve the olives, and break the feta into small crumbly pieces. Drain the chick peas and finely chop the parsley. Combine the cooked cous-cous and everything else together and serve! Also keeps for a few days in the fridge.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Mid-December Joy

I spent the second week of December at a conference in Melbourne. The most memorable meal there was at Pireaus Blues, a fantastic Greek restaurant where I certainly put on the conference pounds. Sadly I caught the flu toward the end of the conference, so spent the next few days huddled at home in bed, complaining that it was cold even in the 30 C heat.

At the weekend, my lovely middle sister appeared, and I just about managed to get to the airport to greet her. The super-husband prepared meals for the next few days, until I was feeling well enough to get up and about. Sister dear and I went on a late Xmas-shopping trip to Fremantle; here she is next to one of our baffling local objets d'art.

As I was not in the best of states to improvise, and we all felt like a bit of nostalgic home cooking, we stuck to some tried-and-tested favourites, like lamb abruzzio and pumpkin & feta & rosemary pizza. On a trip to the observatory, I made a trio of excellent simple salads:
  • puy lentils with roast pumpkin and balsamic vinegar
  • cannelloni beans with herbs and mustard dressing
  • my classic potato salad
Shortly after my parents and youngest sister arrived, we departed for Margaret River, where we had an excellent few days' break :)

Friday, 2 December 2011

Tofu, Asparagus, Cucumber and Lentil Salad

Sometimes you just want a meal of really clean, crisp flavours, preferably without any meat or milk. Just delicious, nutritious things which can be cooked quickly. This really fits the bill!

  • a block of firm tofu enough for two (about 350g)
  • a cucumber
  • two handfuls of puy lentils
  • a handful of toasted cashew nuts or peanuts
  • a handful of alfalfa or other sprouts
  • a handful of cooked asparagus or green beans, cold, sliced
  • bright, fresh herbs, like basil, mint, coriander or dill
  • juice of a lemon
  • olive oil

Cube the tofu and shallow-fry it for a few minutes on each side, until golden and crisp. Meanwhile, boil the lentils - they usually take 20-25 minutes. Cut the cucumber in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, then cube. Dice the herbs. When the tofu is cooled and the lentils are cooked, drain them and toss everything together, along with the lemon juice and olive oil. Taste for seasoning. You could probably chill this for a day or two, minus the olive oil, but it was devoured quickly at our house!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Baked Celery and Salmon

After a Zumba class I was absolutely ravenous. Thankfully my husband had been slaving away over a hot stove, so a mere hour after I arrived home (during which I whinged almost constantly), a warming, nourishing and comfortingly bland (in a good way) dish of Nigel Slater origin appeared. The trick with this is to make sure you get the salt and pepper just right, and don't eat or drink anything with strong flavours at the same time, as all the flavours are milky and gentle. It's like a healthy version of macaroni & cheese. As usual, quantities are for two people.


  • half a head of celery
  • half a small onion
  • a bay leaf
  • 100 ml milk
  • 25g butter
  • 1 heaped tbsp flour
  • a handful of Parmesan or other cheese (experiment!)
  • a small bunch of parsley
  • a handful of rough breadcrumbs

Snap the celery into ribs and wash the root ends thoroughly. Put them in a wide saucepan (cut in half if yours is not wide enough to take them horizontally) and pour over just enough water to barely cover them. Peel and thinly slice the onion and add, along with the bay leaf. Poach over a low heat, until the celery is tender.

Preheat the oven to 180  C. With a draining spoon, remove the celery, onion and bay leaf to a large, shallow baking dish. Use 100ml of the cooking water from the celery along with the butter, flour and milk to make a white sauce, then add half of the Parmesan, and all of the parsley and stir. (Nigel talks about cooking this for a long time before adding the parsley, but I NEVER have time for that sort of faffing. It's a white sauce! Get over it!)

Pour the sauce over the celery and top with breadcrumbs and the rest of the cheese. Bake for forty minutes or so, until the topping is crisp. Rest for a few minutes before serving. You'd have time at this stage to quickly sear a couple of salmon steaks on each side - yum.