Comfort food

It has been a while between posts. Returning to work has taken a bigger toll on my sleep and spare time than I expected. I can blog now because my little one has just gone down for a nap.

What I find really interesting about extended breaks between posts is the fact that you can return to your own thoughts and work with fresh eyes. I feel that this site could improve markedly if I learn some slick coding and develop a better working knowledge of my camera. Look out for aesthetic enhancements over the coming weeks.

Dinner with Helen & Dave. Our friends Helen and Dave joined us for dinner a couple of weeks ago. On the menu:

  • Entree – crostini with: (1) anchovies; and (2) fig jam & brie
  • Main – pan-fried red emperor atop baby potatoes, squash and asparagus, with a caper butter sauce
  • Dessert – white chocolate cheesecake.

First, a pic of the crostini (method as per my post of 2 February):

The fig jam and brie combo is my fave so far. I love the blend of sweet and savoury.

Recipe #14: Pan-fried red emperor with caper butter sauce. Atop baby potatoes, squash and asparagus. Serves 4.

You will need:
• 4 small fillets of red emperor [I like to use dhufish if it’s available]
• 12 baby potatoes
• 4-6 yellow squash
• 12 asparagus spears
• ~60g butter
• 1 heaped tsp capers, chopped
• a splash of brine from the capers
• juice of 1 lemon [or use lime juice if you prefer]
• 2 tbsp dry white wine or champagne
• a small handful of parsley leaves [if you can’t get your hands on flat-leaf parsley, substitute with another soft herb, like thyme]
• olive oil
• salt & pepper

The method may seem a little all over the place, however I am recommending you do it this way so that the timing of the dish works out. It is no good if one aspect of your dish is cooked to perfection while another is soggy and cold.

So, start by half-filling a medium-sized saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Add a few good pinches of salt and the potatoes and lower heat to a gentle simmer. The potatoes will take about 20 minutes to cook, and you can do this while you are preparing and cooking the rest of the meal.

To prepare the fish, place it on a plate and drizzle generously with olive oil. This will prevent it from sticking and burning once it hits the hot pan. Pour half of the lemon juice over the fish and sprinkle on some salt & pepper.

[You can leave the skin on red emperor fillets – it crisps up deliciously. To prep, score the skin and rub a little extra salt into it. When it comes time to cook, put the skin side down first and hold a spatula over the fillet for a minute or so, to prevent it from curling too much.]

To prepare the asparagus, you can either cut off the woody base with a knife, or (as I prefer) you can snap it where it wants to. Discard the base.

Cut the squash into wedges and set aside.

Heat up a frying pan that is big enough to cook at least two of the fish fillets at once (it takes too long if you cook them singly), on a medium-high heat. Add about a third of the butter and a good dollop of olive oil (this stops the butter from burning). When the butter is melted, swirl it around the pan and add the fish fillets. Turn the heat down to medium. Cook the fillets for around 5 minutes on each side and rest on a separate plate.

When the potatoes are soft enough to run a butter knife through, add the squash and asparagus to the potatoes, sprinkle on some more salt and swirl in a bit of olive oil. Cook for a couple of minutes – until the asparagus turns bright green – then strain the vegetables.

While you are waiting for the asparagus and squash to cook, you can make the sauce. Add the rest of the butter to the pan. Once this is melted, add the lemon juice, wine, capers and caper brine, and whisk over the heat. Allow the sauce to combine and reduce slightly, then turn off the heat and stir in the parsley.

To serve, on each plate scatter a few squash wedges over three baby potatoes that are cut through the middle. Lay three asparagus spears across each other. Finally, place the fish fillet on top (if skin is on & crispy, place skin side up). Spoon over the sauce, ensuring that a fair amount reaches the potatoes below. Very yum.

And what of the white chocolate cheesecake? Served up with summer berries, it was rich & smooth. I can not claim kudos for the cake: that was Helen & Dave’s contribution to dinner. Helen wouldn’t part with the recipe, so that has to remain a secret…for now.

Dinner for 8. On Wednesday night, I had a few friends around for dinner, and I decided to make a feast of rustic comfort food:

  • Entree – garlic & onion soup with cheesy bread
  • Main – sticky ribs and maple roasted root vegetables
  • Dessert – baked apricots with creme fraiche and vanilla bean icecream.

Recipe #15: Garlic and onion soup. Serves 8-10.

You will need:
• olive oil
• 3 small onions, finely sliced
• 5 cloves garlic, sliced julienne
• a good dash of Worcestershire sauce
• ~8 sprigs of marjoram (or another sweet, small-leafed herb, eg. thyme)
• about a glass of dry white wine [I used Gewurtztraminer]
• 2 Masel chicken stock cubes and 4 cups water (or 2 cups stock and 2 cups water)
• salt & pepper

Set a large saucepan on medium heat and swirl in some olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, some salt & pepper and stir well. Let the garlic and onion sweat for a few minutes before stirring again (you may need to lower the heat), then add the Worcestershire sauce and marjoram. Once the onion slices start to become translucent, add the wine. Allow this to cook until the onion slices are quite soft, then add the stock cubes and water. Bring to the boil, spooning off the scum from the top of the soup as it forms. Taste the soup. If underseasoned, add more salt & pepper. Allow the soup to sit with the lid on for at least 15 minutes before serving.

The cheesy bread accompaniment followed ‘Nana’s Hachapuri’ recipe from Nigella, on page 306 of Feast. You can find a reproduction at The Traveler’s Lunchbox. Believe it or not, I could not find fresh mozzarella in time, so I substituted provolone, diced very finely, and it worked out beautifully. I placed this huge loaf in the middle of the table and it was great to see everyone tearing at it and dipping it into their soup.

Recipe #16: Sticky ribs. Serves 8.

I only took pictures of the prep. Everyone was too hungry to wait for me to take photos once the ribs were cooked!


You will need:
• 40+ ribs (pork or lamb are good; your butcher can cut these for you)
• 3 sml onions, sliced into wedges
• 1 large thumb-sized piece of ginger, thinly sliced
• 5 tbsp honey
• juice of 3 limes
• 12 dried & crushed lemon myrtle leaves
• 5 star anise
• 4 cinnamon quills, roughly crumbled
• 2 large red chillis, chopped finely
• 3+ tbsp dark soy
• 20mL sesame oil
• 40mL olive oil
• 40mL fish sauce
• a good handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped

Marinate the ribs in all of the other ingredients, bar the coriander leaves, for at least 1 hour before cooking (I prefer overnight).

To cook, pour the ribs (with marinade) into a deep roasting pan. Place the pan into an oven that is preheated to 200°C. Cook for an hour, turning the ribs every 10-15 minutes (the meat should easily come off the ribs). Once cooked, dip each of the ribs into the hot marinade at the bottom of the pan and place on a serving platter. Scatter the coriander leaves over the top.

I was again Nigella-inspired for the root vegetables: potatoes (cut into wedges), parsnips (in chunky fingers) and baby carrots simply doused in maple syrup, salt and olive oil. I also threw in a full head of garlic and a few sprigs of rosemary. The maple syrup was lightly sweet, without being too gluggy. These had the same cooking time and turning requirements as the ribs, so the main meal did not require too much hard work.

I placed two plates mounded high with vegetables and ribs in the centre of the table and let everyone go for it. The finger bowls (lemon slices in warm water) were not used at all; I think everyone licked their fingers clean.

Recipe #17: Baked apricots. Serves 8.

You will need:
• 8 apricots, halved
• about half a glass of white wine
• 50g butter, melted
• vanilla sugar
• slivered almonds
• creme fraiche
• vanilla bean icecream

[You can buy vanilla sugar in most supermarkets now, but you can easily make your own. Next time you make something that needs you to scrape the seeds from a vanilla pod, don’t throw out the pod – instead, add it to a container of caster sugar. Shake it every few days over the course of a week, and you will notice the vanilla permeate the sugar. I do this all the time and use the sugar in coffees.]

Place the apricot halves in a shallow oven tray, cut side up. Brush each half with butter, sprinkle the sugar over evenly, then cover with a thin layer of almond slivers. Pour the white wine into the over tray, ensuring there is a thin layer across the tray.

Bake in a 180°C oven for about 30 minutes. Serve in small bowls with creme fraiche and vanilla bean icecream.

Naturally, I baked too many apricots. These did not, however, go to waste. With family coming around for dinner only two days later, I turned these into apricot pie.

Recipe #18: Apricot pie. Makes 1 large pie. Serves 10-12.

You will need:
• 24+ baked apricot halves [see previous recipe]
• a quantity of shortcrust pastry

Lay the pastry in a fluted tart tin (~20cm diameter) and press into the edges. Cut off any excess pastry [bake this separately and store it for use in cheesecake bases!]. Blind bake the crust in a 220°C oven for around 15 minutes, then remove the weights and cook for a further 10-15 minutes (until the crust starts to turn golden).

Remove it from the oven and turn the heat down to 140°C. Lay the apricot halves in and overlapping spiral around the the base of the pastry case, then bake for another 20 minutes (until warmed through). Serve warm slices of this tart with creme fraiche and vanilla bean icecream.

The remnants – next to spare baked apricots:

The mix of tart and sweet was just divine.

To finish this post, here is my favourite breakfast:

Wholemeal Vegemite toast layered with smooshed avocado, tomato slices, cheese and extra virgin olive oil – and a sprinkling of pepper. I basically lived on this combination when I visited friends in Chile this time last year. The produce in Chile, esp. the avocadoes (palta), has so much flavour. This is also perfect as a snack at any time of day. Nutritious and delicious.


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