I have been a fairly avid cook for the last 20 years. In that time, I have not found many others who have the same passion for preparing food as I have. Grandma and mum, who were the greatest influence in my cooking experience, were very talented home cooks who cooked because they had a family to feed, but they did not cook because it was fun. So it was always a pleasure when I meet a new friend who is passionate about cooking. I have one friend who loves seafood cooking, another who is a wonderful pastry cook and a Japanese friend who is terrific with her family recipes.
Last weekend I threw a charity brunch to raise money for breast cancer research. I formed a cooking team with a new friend Peta who is the fabulous pastry cook and we set about creating a menu for 12 people. She came over on Saturday and we set about cooking. To begin with we made the baked goods that need to be stored overnight to improve their texture and deepen the flavour. Peta made a wonderfully moist and zesty pineapple and ginger loaf and I made a dark chocolate brownie with white chocolate and macadamia. The fun thing about cooking with a friend is the amount of gossiping we do while chopping up the nuts and the crystallised ginger. Afterwards, we wandered down to the beach for a fish dinner at my favourite gourmet fish & chip and a well deserved ice cream.
The next morning we got busy with the serious cooking. The menu was: individual smoked salmon and brie quiches, buttermilk pancakes, summer fruit salad, baked herbed mushrooms with haloumi cheese, grilled bacon, Antipasto platter, and white chocolate & mixed berries muffin; And of course the Pineapple & Ginger Loaf, along with the brownies.
Making the quiche was a lot of fun – I was originally planning to do a baked frittata with spinach and feta or creamy slow cooked scrambled eggs as the eggs course. However a few people I know either did not like spinach or did not like feta. Then the scrambled eggs idea was scratched because it involved stirring the egg mixture (if you’re interested, for 1 person, it’s a mixture of 2 eggs, ¼ cup of milk or cream if you’re feeling decadent, salt, white pepper and a good tablespoon of cheese) in a saucepan over medium heat until it thickens to a thick custard consistency, almost like a sauce. Incredibly delicious over buttered toast with smoked salmon & capers and freshly made espresso on a cold day, but really tedious and I did not have the time with all the other things to cook. Also it was not very nice when cold and would not keep if there was any leftover. So I decided on the quiche. I was thinking of a black olive, semidried tomato, caramelised onion and roasted capsicum quiche, but a friend was also on a doctor prescribed diet of no caffeine, and no acidic foods – so that meant anything with tomatoes, lemons etc was out. So I decided the least offensive combination would be smoked salmon, creamy brie, caramelised onions and chives. And since I had some cheddar cheese left, I used that as well. The quiches turned out better than I thought since I made the recipe up only the day before! So this recipe is definitely a keeper.
The buttermilk pancake has always been my standby recipe for when I have guests for breakfast. I just make the batter up and leave it until I need to cook it. Pancakes were the first thing I was experimenting with when I first started cooking. When I was around 8 or 9, Mum taught me a recipe of savoury pancake with prawns. It was the first thing I could make with no supervision and I was even allowed to wield a knife to cut up the prawns and the onion – I felt so grown up back then! I think it’s a variation on the Korean pancake, Jeon, and other pancakes like it. It basically involves ½ cup of plain flour, mixed with a good pinch of salt, a little pepper or chilli powder, an egg, some light soy sauce, a couple of tablespoons of cornflour, a few drops of sesame oil to add a fragrance and enough water to make a thick sticky batter. Then add a few chopped green prawns, a few slivers of green onion, chopped coriander (cilantro if you’re in Nth America) and whatever else you feel like. Heat a frying pan, add a teaspoon of oil and pour in a few spoons full of the batter. Fry until the top look dry and the bottom is golden. Flip and cook until the other side is also browned. This made enough for one or two hungry 9 year old. Eat hot with tomato sauce. Nowadays when I make it I would use whatever I have in the fridge – salami, olives, any leftover roast, any seafood, or Antipasto vegetables. And I would still eat it with tomato sauce.
One of my favourite TV shows was (and still is) Food Safari on SBS. In one episode Maeve O’Mara, the presenter, visited a Turkish family and the dad prepared a fruit salad of watermelon and other fruits, at the end he added a couple of capful of rosewater to the mix, so I had wanted to try it ever since. Another reason I wanted to play with rosewater is because I love Turkish delights, or Lokum, especially those you get fresh from the Kebab shops or the Middle Eastern delis. I always have trouble choosing from the lemon, rose, plain, orange, lime, mint, vanilla and sometimes more exotic flavours ( to me anyway ) like pomegranate, melon, and mastic. When I was at school, I used to get the Fry’s Turkish Delights chocolate bars, but when I discovered the freshly made ones, there was no going back. Once I tried making it myself to see what that was like, it turned out to be harder than I thought. It started off easy enough as a cornstarch and sugar syrup mixture, but it soon became hard work stirring when the mixture started to get thicker as it cooked. I actually broke two of my favourite wooden spoons trying to stir the almost done mix. The flavour I made was a simple lemon with pistachio. It came out fine, wasn’t as firm as those from the shop, but it had a squishy consistency that was quite satisfying and it kept very well in the fridge. The verdict? Well, let’s say Mr Fry won’t be seeing me again for a while. Anyway, back to the fruit salad, I ended up using strawberries, blueberries, golden kiwi, a couple of new season mangoes, and 5 passion fruits. Then I added some rosewater to the mix. The perfume was incredible – it was a musky, sweet, voluptuous fragrance mixed with the sweet smell of the passion fruit – Mixed with some yoghurt on top of the pancakes, yum.
The brunch was a huge success. People started arriving for the brunch around 11 and we broke out the bubbly, in this case the Brown Brothers Zibibbo Rose which went very well with the fruit salad and a bottle of Chandon. It was good to have everyone in the same room, just catching up and also for some of my newer friends to meet other people. One of the Japanese girls was curious how else you would use rosewater, so I showed her how to turn a very ordinary white wine into a sangria like cocktail – muddle in some soft fruit (in this case a little of the fruit salad with at least a piece of each fruit from the bowl) and a few drops of the rose water to the glass of wine. And voila! Now I just need to figure out how to use the orange blossom water.
We finished up around 3 and Peta stayed to help me clean up. By then we were absolutely exhausted, as we have been up since 7 that morning to start cooking – we put our feet up for a while with a well deserved glass of wine and started planning our next cooking adventure.
I can’t wait.
- 2 cups self raising flour
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 500-600 ml buttermilk
- 2 large eggs (approx 60 grams each) lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon melted butter (around 25 grams)
- Sift the flour, sugar and salt into a large bowl.
- Mix in the eggs, buttermilk and butter, whisk until combined. Set aside to rest for 10 minutes.
- Heat a small frying pan on medium heat until hot. Grease with some melted butter or non-stick spray.
- Pour in about 4 tablespoons of batter to make a 10 cm round.
- Leave to cook until the surface is bubbly and the edges are dry, around 2 minutes, then flip to cook other side for another minute.
Serve with maple syrup, fruit salad or bacon rashers.
Makes around 16 pancakes
Smoked Salmon & Brie Quiches
- 1 packet (5 sheets) shortcrust pastry
- 2 onions sliced
- 150 gm smoked salmon shredded
- 100 gm Brie chopped to small cubes
- 50 gm tasty cheddar cheese
- 12 eggs
- 300 ml thickened cream
- 4 tablespoons chopped chives
- Heat a large frying pan. When hot add 2 tablespoon olive oil and the onions. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the onions until caramelised. Set aside to cool.
- Spray 3 6-holes jumbo muffin tins with non-stick canola spray. Heat the oven to 200 C (180 C in a fan force oven)
- Cut each sheet of pastry into 4 squares (you will only need 4 ½ sheets – save the other ½ sheet for something else), and stretch the pastry square to fit the muffin tin with the 4 points and edge of the pastry draping over the top of the tin to form wings.
- Bake the pastry shell in the oven for 15 minutes until pale golden and cooked through. Set aside to cool for 15 minutes.
- Turn the oven down to 180 C (or 170 C in a fan force oven).
- Distribute the onions, salmon, cheese and chives among the pastry cases
- Whisk together the eggs, cream, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a generous shake of pepper.
- Pour the egg mixture into the pastry cases. Bake in the oven until slightly puffed, golden on top and just set, around 20 minutes.
Makes 18 single serve quiches
Baked mushrooms with Haloumi (Vegetarian)
- 12 large mushrooms, wiped clean and sliced thickly into 1 cm slices
- 2 cloves garlic thinly sliced
- 1 onion sliced
- 2 tablespoons chopped herbs of your choice ( I used chopped chives and lemon thyme )
- 50 gm butter
- Olive oil
- 300 gm Haloumi cheese, thickly sliced
- Heat the oven to 200 C (or 180 C in fan force oven)
- Heat a large frying pan over medium heat until hot then add a tablespoon of olive oil and the onions. Cook until the onions are brown and turn out into a large baking dish to cool.
- Add the butter to the same pan with another tablespoon of olive oil. When the butter has melted add the garlic and cook until the garlic is soft but not brown. Add the mushrooms and toss to coat in the butter mixture, turn into the baking dish and mix with the onions. Sprinkle over the chopped herbs.
- Distribute the cheese slices over the mushroom mixture and drizzle the cheese with a little olive oil.
- Bake in the oven until the cheese is golden and the mushrooms are soft.
Serve with crusty bread to mop up the juices.