Potato Focaccia

Serves: 6

If there is a gap in my cooking, it is baking.

Especially bread.

Enter Nat.

This focaccia is just a cracker and supplied as a recipe from my mother.

It is just wonderful. Focaccia usually is, though warm and home-cooked?

Call me!

Ingredients

200gm floury potatoes
3 tsp dry yeast
Pinch of sugar
200gm flour
100gm strong flour
Olive oil
10 cherry tomatoes, halves
2 tbsp marinated olives, chopped
2 tbsp chopped rosemary (and/or fresh oregano)
Sea salt

Method

  1. Microwave the potatoes until soft, put through a ricer and allow to cool.
  2. Dissolve the yeast and sugar in 125ml water, mix with a fork and allow to froth.
  3. Mix together the flours, add the potatoes, yeast, 50ml olive oil, and enough water to make a dough that isn’t sticky.
  4. Either knead by hand (boring) or use a dough hook to knead for 5 minutes.
  5. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with cling wrap and leave in a warm place for an hour of more until doubled in size.
  6. Preheat the oven to 220c and liberally oil a 28cm round pan.
  7. Place the dough in the palm add 1tbsp of olive oil on top and stretch it to fit to fit the bottom.
  8. Press the tomatoes into the surface, scatter over the olives and herbs and sprinkle with salt.
  9. Bake for 25 – 35 mins or until golden.

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Spiced Tomato Bucatini with Panko Breadcrumbs

Serves: 4

One of the cookbooks we picked up this Christmas was Saturday Night Pasta by Elizabeth Hewson, a self-taught home cook.

Her passion is clear.

Flicking through around 100 pasta recipes, she provides a wonderful introduction and background to the recipe. Nat and I both sat in the kitchen eyeing each receipt off, reading the background and saying, “yep, this is the one” until we flipped the page and it all started over.

We settled on this particular pasta and it was excellent.

The subtle Indian spicing is of course completely unusual, though as Elizabeth puts it, “the lesson here is don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.”

True that.

Ingredients

1 cinnamon stick, broken in half to release its flavour
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tbsp salted butter
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 tbsp dry white wine
400gm can whole peeled tomatoes (I used cherry)
1/2 cup pouring cream
1/2 tsp caster sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup panko breadcrumbs

If making fresh pasta (Half the book is given over to pasta making techniques.)

Maccheroni a descita, Pici.

If using dried pasta

Gnocchetti sardi, Bucatini.

Method

  1. Heat a deep frying pan over a medium-heat. Throw in the cinnamon, garam masala and cardamom pods and toast for 2 minutes or until fragrant. Add the butter, 1 tbsp of the olive oil, the garlic and give everything a good stir for about 30 seconds to until the garlic is soft – you don’t want it to burn.
  2. Pour in the white wine and watch it bubble and drink up the flavours for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cream, sprinkle over the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Give everything a big stir, then reduce the heat to low and leave to bubble away for 30 minutes, allowing the spices to imbue their flavours and the sauce to thinking.
  3. Bring a large saucepan to the boil and salt the water. Add the pasta and cook until al denote. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking water.
  4. Heat a small frypan over a medium heat. Add the remaining 3 tbsp of olive oil and the panko crumb and cook until golden.
  5. When everything is ready, fish out the cinnamon stock and cardamom pods and throw in the drained pasta. Stir, adding a little pasta water if necessary.
  6. Divide into bowls, shower generously with the breadcrumbs and serve.

Christine Manfield’s Cauliflower & Potato Curry

Serves: 4

I have definitely subscribed to the view that vegetarian Indian is the best Indian.

This particular curry tells you why.

Just so, so good.

The mustard oil (don’t cut this corner). The fried cauliflower. The curd.

Served along a brilliant Christine Manfield Mughlai Chicken, this absolutely took the night over the line.

(And for breakfast with some rice the next morning: stop it!)

Ingredients

4 tbsp mustard oil
200gm cauliflower florets
2 cloves
3 green cardamom pods, cracked
250gm, diced and parboiled
8 curry leaves
2 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp salt
1 tsp caster sugar
2 small ripe tomatoes, finely diced
150gm curd (drained yoghurt)
1/2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp chopped mint leaves
3 tsp chopped coriander leaves

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and fry the cauliflower for 2 minutes until just starting to colour. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon.
  2. In the same pan, fry the cloves, cardamom, ginger and curry leaves for 30 seconds until fragrant. Add the potato, tossing to combine and coat with the spices. Return the cauliflower to the pan and toss to combine. Stir through the ground spices, salt and sugar.
  3. Add 2 cups of water and bring to the boil and then reduce to a simmer. Add the tomato and simmer gently for 10 minutes or until the potato is soft.
  4. Add the curd and simmer gently for another 3 minutes. Season with garam masala and garnish with mint and coriander.

Karen Martini’s Cabbage Salad

Serves: 8

You really can’t go wrong with anything Karen Martini.

This salad is no exception.

We served it along-side some wicked BBQ chicken and lordy, this was a good combination.

And healthy too.

Enjoy.

Ingredients

1/2 cabbage, very finely shredded
6 mint sprigs, leaves picked and torn
6 red radishes, very finely sliced
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground caraway seeds!
1/2 lemon juiced
100 mls olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

  1. Whisk together the caraway, lemon juice, olive and salt and pepper.
  2. Toss the dressing with the cabbage, mint, radish and onion, and stand for 5 minutes before serving.

Breakfast on safari

Chakalaka Beans

Serves: 4

Last year for my 40th, Nat took me on an incredible trip through South Africa.

Cape Town, two incredible safaris and two days in Johannesburg, which – despite its reputation for crime and slime – is simply a privelege to visit.

I really did leave a little piece of my heart in ZA and I cannot wait to go back.

One of the clear, defining characteristics of South Africa is the food (and wine). It is sensational.

And so inexpensive.

We fell in love. Not only with some of the world’s best restaurants, though with the extraordinary $4 toasted, gourmet sandwiches at a tiny, private airport we transitted through, cheese and wine throughout Stellenbosch and savoury cookies and cured meats served with wine at the end of every safari.

To that end, the food on both our safaris was superb. Sure, these were 6-star safaris, though the passion of the chefs, the quality of the ingredients, endless snacks and refills: elephants on both sides of the safari equation.

Our first safari was at a private reserve called Kings Camp. And on our second last day, rather than taking us back to camp for the usually excessive and truly impressive three-course breakfast, we had breakfast on safari.

Excessive sure, though in the bush.

So much stood out including the experience itself. Easily one of the best breakfasts of my life. (The chef typed it up for us!)

Thanks babe. You were right and ZA was the best thing I have done.

Enjoy this breakfast recipe, one of dozens they served that morning and one we both absolutely loved. On toast with a poached egg, lordy.

Ingredients

50ml canola oil
30gm chopped fresh ginger
30gm chopped fresh garlic
20gm chopped chilli peppers
200gm chopped onions
500gm tomatoes, roughly chopped
100gm green peppers, roughly chopped
100gm red peppers, roughly chopped
50gm leaves masala
200gm grated carrot
1 tin baked beans, in tomato sauce
1 tin butter beans
200ml vegetable stock
10gm fresh coriander

Method

  1. Fry ginger, garlic, chillis and onion in the oil (until soft).
  2. Add the leaf masala.
  3. Add the tomatoes and cook for 10 minutes.
  4. Add peppers and carrots and cook for 10 minutes (or until soft). Add beans and cook for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens again.
  5. Remove from the heat and add coriander. Check seasoning.
  6. “Enjoy”.

Lemon & Mint Eggplant Tagine with Almond Couscous (or Cauliflower Rice)

Serves: 4

This year, all of us in the RobbyDog family are observing Meat Free Monday.

Better for the environment and surely better for us. (We’re on a major diet post a major Christmas diet!)

Prior to this dish, I had never had a vegetarian tagine though Lordy, I wish I had!

It is simple.

It tastes wonderful.

It is super-low calorie at 361 calories.

And it is so filling. Like, you’re stuffed so much so that I had to double-check the servings to make sure I wasn’t eating for two.

(I wasn’t!)

We also switched out the couscous and almonds for cauliflower rice, saving a pile of calories in the process: definitely sub 300-calories which is our twice-daily meal target.

Finally, we added a chilli to the yoghurt which is a necessary addition of spice.

Every time we jump into a diet, we can’t stop fawning over how wonderful vegetables are on all the levels described above. We look a bit silly.

Hopefully, by adding many great vegetarian dishes to our repertoire over the next few months of shredding, we won’t forget.

Meat Free Monday is a pretty good way to start.

Ingredients

1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped + 1 crushed
1 tbsp harissa
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
200ml vegetable stock
400gm can chopped tomato
1 large eggplant, trimmed and diced
Zest of 1 small lemon
400gm can of butter beans, drained
175gm whole meal couscous
40gm toasted flaked almond
150gm low fat Greek yoghurt
2 tbsp chopped mind
1 red chilli, chopped with seeds

Method

  1. Heat the oil in a large pan and softly fry the onion and garlic for 5 minutes. Stir ion the harissa, cumin and cinnamon, cook briefly and add the stock and tomatoes.
  2. Add the eggplant and lemon and then cover the pan and cook gently for 15 – 20 minutes until the eggplant are tender. Add the butter beans and warm through.
  3. Meanwhile, combine the yoghurt, additional garlic, mint and chill=i.
  4. Cook the couscous and then stir in the almonds. Alternatively, prepare cauliflower rice.
  5. Serve the tagine on the couscous (or cauliflower rice) with the yoghurt drizzled over.

Crispy Roast Potatoes

Serves: 4

Truth is, I am not that enamoured by roast potatoes.

Which puts me in the minority because so often I hear from people just how much they love roast potatoes: also, that they are a treat?

It could be because I had them so often at boarding school, though what is amazing about a dry piece of roasted potato?

Mash with cream and Parmesan. Of course.

Colcannon. Most definitely.

Hasselbacks. Any day.

So there we are a few months back and Nat proposes a Sunday night roast. With roast potatoes.

“Sounds great” I gulp. “Can’t wait.”

Though Nat being Nat, she does her research. Plain old boarding school roast potatoes these will not be.

If you’re into your cooking, you have possibly come across the website Serious Eats. It’s a great site and a great service, where they take different recipes, pull them apart and rebuild them – using science – to create the very best version of that recipe.

It’s very cool.

And so here is… as they put it… “The Best Crispy Roast Potatoes Ever Recipe”.

And to their credit and Nat’s, these are the best I have ever eaten.

Cook them and tell me they’re not.

(The recipe specifically asks for two types of American potatoes that we cannot get in Australia. Through reading etc, the potatoes to use here in Australia are Dutch Cream, Desiree, Coliban or Sebago.)

Ingredients

Kosher salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
2kg potato (see note above), peeled and cut into large, 5cm chunks
5 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil or duck fat
Small handful picked rosemary leaves, finely chopped
3 medium cloves garlic, minced
Freshly ground black pepper
Small handful fresh Italian parsley leaves, minced

Method

  1. Adjust the oven rack to be centred and heat oven to 230c.
  2. Heat 2 litres of water in a large pot over a high heat until boiling. Add 2 tbsp salt, baking soda and potatoes and stir. Return to a boil and then simmer until knife meets little resistance when inserted into a potato chunk: about 10 minutes after returning to a boil.
  3. Combine the olive oil (or duck fat) with rosemary, garlic and a few grinds of pepper in a small saucepan and heat over a medium heat. Cook, stirring and shaking pan constantly, until garlic just begins to turn golden: about 3 minutes.
  4. Immediately strain oil through a fine-mesh strainer set in a large bowl. Set garlic/rosemary mixture aside and reserve separately.
  5. When potatoes are cooked, drain carefully and let them rest in the pot for 30 seconds to allow excess moisture to evaporate. Transfer to bowl with infused oil, season to taste with a little more salt and pepper and toss to coat, shaking bowl roughly, until a thick layer of mashed “potato-like” paste has built up on the chunks.
  6. Transfer potatoes to a large rimmed baking sheet and separate them, spreading them out evenly. Transfer to oven and roast, without moving, for 20 minutes. Using a thin, flexible metal spatula to release and stuck potatoes, shake pan and turn potatoes.
  7. Continue roasting until potatoes are deep brown and crisp all over, turning and shaking them a few times during cooking: around 30 – 40 minutes.
  8. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and add the garlic/rosemary mixture and minced parsley. Toss to coast and season with more salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately.

Rick Stein’s Pickled Onion and Pineapple Salad

Serves: 4 – 6

This is a really simple, colourful, Rick Stein Indian salad that perfectly cuts through fatty Indian dishes such as pork curries.

Ingredients

1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp white wine vinegar
1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp sugar
300gm pineapple, peeled and cut into 2cm pieces
A few fresh coriander leaves

Method

  1. Toss the onions together with the vinegar, sugar and salt and leave to marinate for an hour.
  2. Strain off any excess liquid, then toss the onions with the pineapple chunks, scatter with coriander and serve.

Delia Smith’s Asparagus with Quick Hollandaise

Serves: 4

Nat’s parents come over every few weeks for a meal (and several bottles of wine) and it is something I always look forward to.

I am always told by Nat’s mother – Deb – to keep it simple.

Which this easy little starter I served at our most recent meal, certainly is.

It is really elegant, super classic and foolproof if you pressed for time.

Which means more time for drinking champagne and catching up.

Ingredients

2 bunches asparagus, woody ends trimmed
1 bunch rocket

Hollandaise Sauce

1/4 cup creme fraiche
1 tsp cornflour
2 egg yolks
1 tsp white wine vinegar
2 tsp lemon juice
40gm unsalted butter, softened

Method

  1. For the Hollandaise Sauce, place the creme fraiche, cornflour, egg yolks, white wine vinegar and lemon juice in a saucepan over a low heat. Cook, whisking gently for 1 – 2 minutes until thickened and combined.
  2. Remove from the heat and set aside. Whisk in the butter until combined, then season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Steam the asparagus for 2 – 3 minutes until tender.
  4. Divide the asparagus and rocket among serving plates, then drizzle with Hollandaise Sauce and serve.

Bill Granger’s Pea, Mint and Feta Salad

Serves: 4

This is one of Bill Granger’s signature dishes and he deserves it to be.

Amazing.

We have had mixed success with some of his dishes, though a good Bill Granger dish is a great one and this is definitely a salad that is great.

It looks simple – because it is – though the whole thing comes together wonderfully.

If you need a side to pair with that piece of lamb you’re doing on the BBQ, this is definitely a salad you should try.

Amazing.

Ingredients

200gm frozen peas
3 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely diced
2tsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp honey
Sea salt and cracked black pepper
40gm shelled pistachio nuts, coarsely chopped
1 large handful fresh mint leaves
60gm baby English spinach
90gm Feta cheese, crumbled

Method

  1. Blanch the peas until cooked – boiled water or microwaved – until they are tender and bright green. Refresh immediately in cold water, drain and set aside.
  2. In a small pan, heat 1 tbsp of the oil over a medium heat: add the onion and cook until soft, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, remaining 2 tbsp olive oil, vinegar and honey and season with the salt and pepper to taste.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the peas, onions and pistachios and pour over the dressing. Add the mint, spinach and gently toss to coat with dressing.
  5. Top the salad with the feta cheese and serve.