Category Archives: Something Special

Want a Weekly Menu? Here's something I prepared earlier …

For all sorts of reasons I won’t bore you with, my cooking schedule has ground to a complete stop for what is likely to be the first half of July. I have to down tools for a couple of weeks.

Normally when interruptions leap into my schedule I ‘churn’ recipes, that is, bring to the front of the line those recipes that are popular but sometimes too well hidden. Despite there being a search bar on this page (to the top right of this page) and an extensive catalogue of recipes all listed (at the bottom of this home page, also on the right of this page), you have told me you struggle with finding some of the recipes.

So I have done it for you.

Listed below is a suggested menu for the next week, including – wait for it – a much-requested shopping list. It’s designed to take advantage of seasonal availability, large appetites and a need for comfort food at this time of year. Some of these recipes goes back to the very beginnings of this blog. Continue reading Want a Weekly Menu? Here's something I prepared earlier …

Something Special – Hosting friends to a meal? Stick to what you know

Welcome to the second part of a series on hosting friends to dinner. Last time we looked at some preliminary planning for a meal with friends and putting thought towards setting a date and deciding on a suitable venue.

Now we come to the building blocks of putting a great meal on the table.

Dreaming of a great meal with lots of happy friends, laughing at our splendid jokes, eating our superb food, set in an impeccable home is, quite frankly, delusional. Our ambitions exceed our abilities and tips us into a personal hell. We hope it will look like something Martha Stewart or Nigella could put together; often it ends in tears. Your tears. Continue reading Something Special – Hosting friends to a meal? Stick to what you know

Something Special – Hosting some friends for a meal? First, plan ahead.

When was the last time you hosted some friends for a meal?

Note I didn’t say what sort of meal. It could be a casual brunch, or it could be a formal dinner, but regardless, I simply want to know: When did you last open your doors and invite people in?

If you have just spent the last couple of minutes trying to remember exactly when it was, I respectfully suggest that it’s been too long. It’s about time you did it again, because the sad fact is that too many people never host others around to eat their food.

There are all sorts of reasons for this, usually based around practical issues such as having to wrangle young children, or not having enough money to splash around, or having to clear away the mess on the dining table just so people can sit down. While these are all understandable concerns, it misses a vitally important point: Having friends around is FUN. It adds to your well-being. It improves your mood. It makes you laugh and helps create wonderful memories to restore your equilibrium later on.

So why is it that we don’t do it more often? Is it because we don’t feel very confident about our cooking abilities?  Is it that it takes so much time and effort? Is it that your friends don’t return the invitation?

Or is it, simply, that you don’t have the money? Continue reading Something Special – Hosting some friends for a meal? First, plan ahead.

Something Special – Seafood Kebabs with Lime and Chilli Butter

Once, when I was on a tight budget but feeling resourceful, I made some seafood kebabs for some friends who were visiting from Britain. It was intended partly to impress them with our beautiful local product and partly to save money when I chopped up some bog-standard fish and threaded it onto skewers with some other bog-standard shellfish and then crowned the lot in a Thai-inspired lime and chilli butter.

That was ten years ago and I haven’t made them since. I had forgotten I had ever made them until my friend recently reminded me of them. For her, it remained one of the great standout meals of her life. Such beautiful food, she said.

So, with that winning endorsement, it’s only fair I attempt to recreate them here, just in time for your seafood Christmas.

Continue reading Something Special – Seafood Kebabs with Lime and Chilli Butter

Sweet Treats – Pear Paris Brest

As I explained to you earlier, the good folks at Nerada™ Tea gave me a swag of  tea varietals to play with in the hope I could create some lovely ideas with their awesome product.

If anything I was spoilt for choice.

I started with the variety I was most familiar with, the bog-standard black tea. (Not that Nerada is bog-standard, it being organic and grown locally and hand-picked by rose lipped maidens, but you get the idea.) From it came the wonderful recipe for barmbrack, a tea bread that has since garnered lots of favourable feedback on Facebook.

Then I started casting around for other ideas. In the huge bag of goodies was a lovely herbal blend called Rooibos and Vanilla. It gives off a wonderful blushing pink brew and is sweet enough without any further addition of sugar or honey. With a fantastic vanilla scent, it’s guaranteed to bring people into the room wondering what you have been baking.

To me, it seemed perfect to include as a flavouring in baking, but what? More importantly, how? Should I make a cuppa and add it to an existing recipe?

In the end, that’s exactly what I did. I poached a few pears in a litre of very strongly brewed Rooibos and Vanilla tea, and as I suspected, it didn’t need any further sweetening. The pears absorb the subtlety of the rooibos flavour (rooibos is a shrub, native to South Africa) and the vanilla lifts the whole shebang into another dimension. A special flavour demanding a special dessert.

Continue reading Sweet Treats – Pear Paris Brest

Something Special – Blood Plum Terrine

Of the dozens of plum varieties around the country, there is none with such a short season as blood plums and yet I find myself looking out for them every year.

With a rather ordinary purplish skin, there’s nothing to really set it apart from it’s fair-skinned cousins, but once the flesh is laid bare, the real joy begins. Blood plums have a rich, intense flavour and reliably turn the kitchen into a murder-scene once the bright red flesh is cut.

Of course, you can make this terrine with any dark-fleshed plums – the darker, the better – but do buy blood plums if you see them.

This terrine has been in my repertoire for years and years and every now and again I make the effort to re-create it. It sounds like a fiendishly difficult dessert to make but as with all these things it relies on just one or two tricks. Tilting the terrine pan to one side against the side of the fridge (or nestled into some ice cubes) gives a startling geometric look, and being fearless when working with gelatine will bring you all sorts of compliments from your guests.

Continue reading Something Special – Blood Plum Terrine

Something Special – Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding with Horseradish Cream

EDIT: A recent conversation on Facebook showed that some people get a little nervous about roasting beef or making yorkshire puddings. I hope that this post, first written 18 months ago, gives you everything you need to restore your confidence.

Now, a decent joint of beef is not cheap and never will be, so it’s worth taking your time when cooking this dinner. Breathe out. Breathe in again. You can do this!

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Surely, this must be the perfect counter-point to anyone who declares that British cuisine is awful:  Justifiably, it speaks for itself and brooks no argument. Crucially, you must buy the right cut of beef for this meal. Some cuts such as bolar, silverside or rump will not do. For mine it has to be a prime rib roast, with well marbled meat. At $20+ a kilo, it’s not a cheap meal, but it will always be a memorable one, especially if you pay attention to the yorkshire pudding and horseradish cream that accompanies this meal.

There is really only one thing to remember when roasting beef and that is to remove it from a hot oven earlier than you would otherwise think to, and to rest it well before carving. That’s all you have to do to ensure succulent, tender and juicy meat. You can finish off the Yorkshire puddings and gravy while the meat rests. This meal will easily serve six and can easily stretch to eight – it’s simply more potatoes and gravy.

Continue reading Something Special – Roast Beef and Yorkshire Pudding with Horseradish Cream

Something Special – Banana Flower Salad

My local Thai restaurant is near the cinema complex and is the perfect place to stop in for a cheap and cheerful meal before the next movie. It’s a pretty standard menu, one that is duplicated a thousand times around the country, but there is one dish that is a standout – Banana Flower Salad.

Banana Flowers are just that, the enclosed flower stem of a banana tree from which grows the single crop of bananas that the tree produces. The dark purple outer leaves are discarded, revealing creamy, crisp and tangy flesh but with no hint of the strong banana flavour to come. While they may be abundant in Thailand or in tropical areas, here in suburbia, there’s no such luck. I’ve never seen them in my local shops. Continue reading Something Special – Banana Flower Salad

Something Special – Twice-Cooked Duck Breast

The last time I cooked anything celebratory was probably at Christmas, which from the place I’m standing, seems as far away to me as Mars. Time then, to get into the kitchen and cook a knockout dinner. Why? No reason at all, really. It’s simply an I-Deserve-It dish.

Besides, duck is my favourite meat. The story goes that Elizabeth David dined on oysters and champagne the evening before she passed away. Surely, if I could participate in such a thing, duck would be the last meal of my choosing.

Duck is not at all difficult to cook provided you understand what it is you’re dealing with. This is a bird that has a layer of fat underneath the skin that has to be rendered away, leaving succulent flesh and crispy skin.

Continue reading Something Special – Twice-Cooked Duck Breast

Something Special – Prawn Saganaki

I first posted this recipe last Easter as a reminder of why it’s important to save for the special occasions that come our way throughout the year. In this five day marathon of eating, feasting and enjoying the company of others, now is the time to count our blessings. Prawns are plentiful and well priced. If you can get green prawns, use them for this dish. A perennial favourite in my house for Good Friday, enjoy it with a green salad, some crusty bread to sop up the juices and eat it in what surely must be the last of mild autumn days.

Serves 4 for lunch, or 6 as part of a bigger meal

Continue reading Something Special – Prawn Saganaki