Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes

Time saver: if you’re going to eat tomatoes, eat them like this…

Balsamic Roasted TomatoesThese tomatoes have an intense flavour and are great as part of an antipasto platter or in a salad. Mum taught me how to make these. I’m not sure if she got them off a recipe or made it up herself, but I’ve come up with the measurements below and they seem to work.

Note that you can use all sorts of different tomatoes when making these, you may need to adjust the cooking time down if using really small tomatoes, but the basic principle will be the same.

Balsamic Roasted Tomatoes

  • 500g fresh ripe tomatoes (about 4 medium-large ones) or 300g smaller tomatoes
  • 1-2 cloves finely chopped/1 tsp crushed garlic
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • several sprigs of fresh thyme (or ½ tsp dried thyme)
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
  1. Heat oven to 200°C.
  2. Cut tomatoes into segments. If large, cut into sixths or eighths, if smaller, cut into halves or quarters.
  3. Arrange tomatoes skin down (cut sides up) in a small roasting pan (optionally lined with baking paper).
  4. Distribute the garlic evenly among the tomatoes, dropping a little bit onto each one with a teaspoon. Be sure to get some on every piece of tomato.
  5. Season with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  6. Lay sprigs of thyme across the tops of the tomatoes, again, ensure that all tomatoes come into contact with the thyme. Alternatively, if using dried thyme, sprinkle evenly over the tomatoes.
  7. Gently drizzle the olive oil over the tomatoes, then do the same with the balsamic vinegar.
  8. Place tomatoes in the oven, and cook for 60 minutes. Check at 10 minute intervals after cooking for 40 minutes. When ready the tomatoes will have reduced in size, and be starting to brown around the edges. (If you keep cooking past this point they’ll get smaller and crispier – they’re still surprisingly tasty even when well-charred…)
  9. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool, then remove the sprigs of thyme from the top, transfer the tomatoes to a serving dish and serve.

Balsamic Tomatoes Ready For Oven

Thai Fish Cakes

Time saver: “fish” and “cake” shouldn’t normally go together. (Just my opinion.)

Here’s a recipe I’ve been meaning to put up for a while, it goes out to my brother, who’s going to cook them for Mum when he gets back home (it’s on the Internet now, he has to).

“Fish cakes” don’t sound all that appealing (to me anyway) but these are truly delicious. When you get them right, the outside slightly caramelised, the inside still moist and tender, the dressing fresh and zingy… everything just combines into something so much better than the name might suggest. Not only that but they’re really quick to make.

The recipe scales well, so you can double it to serve twice as many people, or halve it for an entrée sized serving. For the degustation menu I think I made about a quarter of a batch and didn’t use all of it. (In that case the fish cakes were quite small and almost egg-shaped, rather than a flat round, and I used a very small pan with quite a lot of oil for a semi-deep fried effect. They were then served on a small plate on top of finely-chopped cucumber salad, with a lime and sweet chilli dressing.)

I’ve tried a few variations of these, but this recipe contains the bare essentials required to guarantee success. The recipe calls for fresh coriander (cilantro), or basil if you don’t like coriander. If you don’t like either of those, I don’t know what you’re doing reading a food blog (unless you’re researching the enemy…) but I suppose you could use fresh parsley. Note the “optional” ingredients – these can be included for more flavour, but aren’t strictly required – you’ll still get an excellent result with just the base ingredients.

Thai Fish Cakes – serves 2

For the salad

  • 80-100g fresh salad greens (e.g. Mesclun salad mix, rocket, baby lettuce and thinly sliced cucumber etc.)
  1. Divide evenly between two plates.

For the Dressing

  • 2 Tbsp Thai sweet chilli sauce
  • 2 Tbsp fresh lemon/lime juice
  • 5-10g/2 Tbsp fresh coriander, finely chopped
  • (optional) 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • (optional) 2 Tbsp finely chopped roasted peanuts (to sprinkle on top)
  1. Combine chilli sauce and lemon/lime juice in a small bowl and mix well.
  2. Taste it, and if it’s too tart and 1 Tbsp brown sugar, then mix well.
  3. Add the chopped coriander and stir through.

For the fish cakes

  • 300-400g firm white fish fillets (e.g. hoki, snapper, grouper etc)
  • 3-4 spring onions (1 per 100g fish) chopped coarsely
  • 20g/small bunch/¼ cup of fresh coriander/basil chopped coarsely
  • 3 Tbsp Thai sweet chilli sauce
  • zest of 1 lemon/lime
  • (optional) ¼ tsp of sesame oil
  • (optional) 5-10 mint leaves, chopped coarsely
  • (optional) 2 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • (optional) 1 clove/tsp crushed garlic
  • (optional) 1 Tbsp fish sauce
  • Peanut oil to fry in (around 3-5 Tbsp) (if you don’t have peanut oil, go get some, or get coconut oil or use a much less interesting unflavoured vegetable oil)
  1. Combine all of the ingredients for the fish cakes in a food processor, and pulse till well mixed. Don’t go so far as to turn it into a paste, it should really only take 15-20 seconds. If you don’t have a food processor or anything like it, you’ll have your work cut out for you. Just chop everything finely, cut the fish into small (tiny) pieces, and then mix it by hand in a bowl.
  2. Heat the peanut oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. I normally use a non-stick pan for these, if you’re careful a bare metal pan will work too.
  3. Take a heaped tablespoon of fish mixture and shape into a flat round in your hand, then add it to the pan and repeat (quickly). You should get around 8-10 fish cakes.
  4. Fry fish cakes on each side for around 3-5 minutes, turning once the bottoms are golden brown and/or start to caramelise.
  5. Divide fish cakes onto the plated salad, placing them in a line down the middle of each plate, tiled slightly with the edge of one fish cake on top of the one next to it.
  6. Drizzle 2 Tbsp of the dressing over the top of the fish cakes on each of the plates. (If using peanuts, sprinkle 1 Tbsp  of the chopped peanuts over the top of the dressing.)

Crêpes

Time saver: Phil whips up a tasty weekend brunch…

Rolled crepeCrêpes are a traditional thin French pancake. They’re very versatile, and can be filled with just about anything for a variety of different effects. You can make them ahead of time and stack them up, or serve them hot out of the pan (my preference).

When I was growing up we probably had crêpes for lunch about once every two weeks. Mum or Dad would whip up a batch of batter, then spend the next hour frying up delicious pancakes for the starving hordes (there are lots of kids in my family). We’d eat them with a sprinkling of sugar and a dash of lemon juice, or with maple syrup, rolled up and cut into segments. When we were younger Dad would help us put them together, but it always came at a cost, because then he’d yell “Tax!” and steal one of the crispy end pieces. (In some ways I guess that represented an important life lesson.)

For that reason, I’ve always been pretty familiar with crêpes, so I was a bit surprised to find that some people consider them tricky to make. The recipe itself is very straightforward and requires relatively few ingredients and not much skill to prepare. There’s a bit of a knack to getting the batter to spread while you’re cooking them, but once you get the hang of it and get used to the idea that the first crêpe is always going to be a disaster, they’re really pretty easy.

Crepe in the panI think the Edmonds Cook Book has had the basic recipe nailed for the past 100 years. They use a little less milk than my parents did – adding more helps you spread the batter and get a nice thin pancake. I’ve modified my parents’ basic recipe to scale it better for cooking for two hungry adults. The recipe can very easily be doubled or tripled etc depending on how many pancakes you’re wanting to make. I use a standard 9″ diameter frying pan to cook these in, you don’t need a special crêpe pan, and it doesn’t need to be non-stick. (Feel free to use a different pan size, just adjust the amount of batter you pour in to match.)

Crêpes – makes around 8 pancakes of 9″ diameter

  • 1½ c plain flour
  • 1½ c milk
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 30 g melted butter (optional)
  • 8 small cubes of butter for frying
  1. Sift flour and salt into a large bowl.
  2. Add the eggs and milk, then beat with an electric beater till smooth. If you don’t have an electric beater, you can use a whisk or wooden spoon and a bit of arm power. In that case, you’ll want to add the milk gradually as you mix to help you avoid lumps (with the electric beater these really aren’t much of a problem).
  3. Add the melted butter and mix to combine. This is optional, particularly if you use a bit of butter to fry the pancakes in, and my parents never added it. I’m a fan of butter, and it improves the taste a bit.
  4. Put the bowl of batter in the fridge to chill for an hour (or more). This stops the crêpes from shrinking when you cook them. You can prepare the batter up to a day before you actually want to use it. If you’re in a big hurry (e.g. my parents cooking Sunday lunch) you can skip this step and cook the batter immediately, but the pancakes will contract as they cook and be slightly thicker than they otherwise would be.
  5. Take the batter out of the fridge and give it a stir. If it’s too thick add another splash of milk and stir it through.
  6. Heat a 9″ frying pan on a high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-high, and leave to settle for a couple of minutes. (My elements go from 1-6, I normally have it set to 4 when cooking these.)
  7. Put one of the small butter cubes into the pan, then lift the pan and swirl it around to spread the butter evenly over the base. (The butter will hiss and rapidly melt, this sound evokes a lot of delicious memories for me.)
  8. Pour some of the batter into the pan. I use a ladle that holds 1/3 of a cup, you could also use a 1/3 cup measure, or just pour it out of the bowl (you get a feel for how much you need). Don’t pour it directly into the middle – pour to one of the sides as it makes it much easier to spread.
  9. After adding the batter to the pan quickly lift it and tilt the pan around to spread the batter evenly. If the pan is too cold, the batter will slip and be hard to spread. If the pan is too hot the batter will cook too quickly, before you’re able to spread it. If the batter is too thick it will also be hard to spread (in that case add a bit more milk to the bowl of batter and stir it through). If you’ve used too much butter to grease the pan it will run up the sides and onto the top of the pancake – although that’s not really a problem because it just makes the edges a delicious crispy golden brown. Don’t worry if the first one turns out wrong or doesn’t spread evenly. This is your chance to thin the batter, adjust how much butter you’re using to grease the pan, or adjust the heat of the element.
  10. Cook on that side for around 1-2 minutes until the top is no longer wet. If you lift the pan and shake it slightly, the pancake should slide around. At that point, flip the pancake using a fish slice (wide spatula). If your pan has curved sides you can flip the pancake just by rapidly lifting the pan and moving it forward, up and then back towards you. It takes a bit of practice but is achievable.
  11. Cook on the remaining side for another 30-60 seconds.
  12. At this point you can serve immediately, or stack on a plate in a warm oven (90°C/200°F) to serve in one go.
  13. Return the pan to the heat for around 10-15 seconds, then add another cube of butter and repeat…

I’d then eat the crêpes, sprinkling some sugar (2-3 tsp) and a dash of lemon juice (1-2 tsp), then rolling them up tightly. Alternatively, use maple or vanilla syrup, a fresh fruit compote, vanilla ice cream etc. You can also fill them with savoury fillings, or roll them up and bake them like enchiladas.

(This morning we had them with chopped bananas and a hot vanilla-caramel sauce.)

Crispy hash browns

Time saver: fried potato with salt and pepper, oh yeah…

Crispy hash brownsI’m not really sure if it’s the right time to post this recipe. I think the recipe’s good, but my technique is not quite there yet. I made these the other night, but forgot I’d used my oil and ended up having to cook them in peanut oil. (I probably wouldn’t have normally picked that in particular.) As a result I didn’t quite get the golden-brown finish I would have liked. They’re still good and crispy though. Anyway, I’ll put the recipe out there and reserve the right to tweak it and upload photos later on. (UPDATE: photo uploaded from subsequent attempt.)

There’s two basic types of hash brown – the pure hash brown and the embellished one. The first is simply grated potato, seasoned with salt and pepper, fried in a little oil. The second might contain eggs (which help hold everything together), onions, garlic, bacon etc. This post is all about the pure version.

The key thing for a good crispy hash brown is to get as much moisture out of the grated potatoes as possible. There are a few different ways to achieve this, how you do it will really come down to personal preference and what you’ve got available. Just as indication, the potatoes I used went from weighing 600g immediately after grating, to weighing about 400g with the moisture extracted. (And it’s possible I could have got more out.)

Techniques for extracting moisture:

  • Put grated potato in a colander, press firmly to squeeze out moisture. Leave for 20 minutes or so, then squeeze again. A variation on this is to also sprinkle a little salt in after the first squeeze to help draw out more moisture.
  • As per the colander, but use a metal sieve (just be careful not to break it – you really do have to push quite hard to get that moisture out).
  • If you don’t have a sieve or a colander, just leave the grated potato in a large bowl. Squeeze the potato to one side and pour out the liquid. Again, leave for 20 minutes, then repeat. (You’ll be surprised how much more liquid accumulates after the wait.)
  • You can use a potato ricer to squeeze out the moisture directly. If you haven’t seen one it’s basically like a large garlic press, usually used for mashing potato. In this case you press the grated potato in the ricer and squeeze the liquid out. (The idea is not to push the potato through the ricer – just to get rid of the moisture.)
  • You can try using paper towels to blot off the moisture, or wrap around some of the grated potato and squeeze it out. Note that you’ll probably have to use a lot of paper towels to do this properly.
  • If you have an extremely clean tea towel handy you can pile the grated potato into the middle, fold the towel around it lengthwise, then twist it thoroughly, wringing the moisture out of the potato.
  • Or let your imagination take flight (and let me know in the comments what you do!).

Crispy hash browns – makes eight 50g hash browns

  • 600g potato (this is about 4 medium sized potatoes), starchy varieties work best (but use what you have)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • salt
  • oil/butter (or a combination) for frying
  1. Clean and dry the potatoes. You can peel them, but I leave the skins on (since that’s where the nutrients are). Remove any obvious blemishes, eyes, shoots etc.
  2. Grate the potatoes into a large bowl. Pick one of the moisture extraction techniques listed above and get as much moisture out of the grated potato as possible.
  3. Season the potatoes with freshly ground black pepper, and stir it through.
  4. Heat 2 Tbsp oil in a frying pan on a medium-high heat. It needs to be quite hot before you add the potato…
  5. Scoop the grated potato into a ¼ cup measure and press it in firmly, then tip into the frying pan. (You can just spoon the potato into the pan, but using the ¼ cup measure ensures even sized hash browns and helps keep the potato together. For a bigger hash brown use a bigger measure.) Press the hash brown down with the back of a spoon, spreading the potato out and getting to about ½ – 1 cm thick. Try and keep the edges together (the grated potato tends to stray outwards). After pressing it flat, sprinkle/grind a little salt over it. You’ll probably fit about 3 or 4 hash browns in the pan at a time (unless it’s a big pan).
  6. Fry the hash brown for around 3-4 minutes, then flip and fry for around 3-4 minutes on the other side. If the oil has all been absorbed you can add a little more just prior to flipping. The exact cooking time will obviously depend on your element, frying pan, potato, oil etc. Ideally the hashbrowns should be golden-brown (without going actual brown), and need to be cooked all the way through.
  7. Serve and eat while hot.

Crème brûlée

Time saver: silky smooth deliciousness, topped with crisp toffee – what’s not to love?

I’d had crème brûlée at restaurants a couple of times before, but it wasn’t until I made them myself that I really started to love them. My sister got me a butane gas torch for making brûlée a couple of Christmases ago, and not wanting it to go to waste I thought I’d better try it out. Ever since then I’ve been hooked.

This recipe is really an amalgamation of a few different recipes I’ve come across. I’ve tweaked and adjusted as I’ve gone, and the last time I made it was the best. I’ve tried making it with fewer egg  yolks – even as low as just using 3 – but it definitely works better with more, with a better texture and richer flavour. If you do use fewer egg yolks you’ll need to cook them for longer. I’ve also tried tricks like cutting open a vanilla bean and leaving it in the cream overnight before making it. It certainly didn’t hurt, but I still needed a lot of vanilla extract anyway.

Generally speaking you’d make these the night before you want to eat them. If you really can’t wait, then go ahead and eat them the same day, but make sure you’ve refrigerated them after cooking for at least an hour or so.

One final note: use natural vanilla extract – don’t use artificial vanilla essence, it just isn’t the same. (And since you’re going to the trouble of making this decadent dessert, you’ll want to do it justice.) You can buy it, or make your own by soaking vanilla beans in vodka.

Crème Brûlée – makes 4 custards (fills 4 ramekins of around 150 ml)

  • 500ml cream
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 3 Tbsp caster sugar
  • 1-2 Tbsp natural vanilla extract (depending on strength)
  • Additional caster sugar for topping (around 1½ tsp per rammekin)
  1. Pre-heat oven to 140°C.
  2. Heat cream in a sauce pan over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cream will eventually start to boil, getting very frothy and rising in pan. When this happens, remove the pan from the heat immediately, add the vanilla extract and stir well. (Have a quick taste test to determine if you need to add more vanilla. I typically use 2 Tbsp, even with bought extract.)
  3. While cream is cooling, combine the sugar and egg yolks in a separate bowl, and whisk well. After a couple of minutes the mixture should go a pale yellow.
  4. Pour the (still warm-hot) cream into the egg mixture, whisking as you pour, and mix well.
  5. Distribute the mixture evenly among the four ramekins, then place the ramekins in a small roasting dish, and half-fill the dish with hot water (being careful not to splash your cream).
  6. Put the dish in the oven and cook for around 25 minutes. The centres should be not quite fully set, but a skewer put into the custard about halfway to the centre should come out clean. (You kind of have to use your discretion, and a lot of it comes down to your oven, the size of the ramekins, prevailing wind conditions etc.)
  7. Remove the dish from the oven, and allow to cool. Once they’re cool enough to handle, you can remove the ramekins and put them in the fridge.
  8. When you’re ready to serve, take the custards out of the fridge. Sprinkle a little sugar evenly over the tops of each one (around 1½ tsp or so), then fire up your torch. Move the flame across the surface, melting all of the sugar and caramelising it a little to get a golden brown. It takes a bit of care to make sure you don’t end up burning it, but don’t be alarmed if it’s a little darker than you were expecting.