02 November 2010


The Cooks

Dare I say it, but this may possibly have been our best cooking club EVER - and not just in culinary terms.

This month we celebrated 5 years together with a getaway to Pinjarra, where, as the Pinjarra Visitor Centre describes as " ... the Centre of the Peel Region.. Where the Murray River begins in the hills and meanders down through the picturesque farmland."

It all started with a relaxed, gently paced lunch at Raven Wines (ravenwines.com.au) where Head Chef Luke Cattana has devised a 'grazing selection' of little plates to share. I love this style of eating as you get to sample a variety of dishes which, if you are anything like me - I find it incredibly difficult to choose just ONE dish - is just perfect. I'm not here to review the restaurant, but if you're in the area- DO make a stop for a bite. The decor is fresh, crisp and smart, staff are friendly and helpful (I turned up with a big tagine of oxtail and asked if they could find some space to store it in their coolroom while we lunched-they obliged with a smile) and what we ate was fabulous. Loved every bite.

Valley View Cottage, Pinjarra, Western Australia

We then made our way to the charming "Valley View Cottage", a private property of 100 acres set atop a hill overlooking a couple of spring fed dams and valleys. I can't begin to describe how tranquil, quaint and "Country Style" gorgeous the little cottage is. The most impressive thing, other than the view of the valleys from the sweeping front verandah, was the extensive, rambling rose gardens! Roses of almost every colourway and variety were represented. There were also stone fruit, almond, fig and lemon trees, all with budding fruit. The surprise, was the seemingly neglected patch of asparagus crowns. I have never seen them growing before, and when I spied those bright, crisp stems picked one instantly for a taste and was blown away. Juicy, snappy and bright green, with the taste of sweet peas. I truly felt we were channelling Maggie Beer herself as we harvested them later to have with our meal!

For the next little while we all pottered around, some of the girls flicked through magazines, CookN worked on her Reiki and Reflexology techniques, I went off with my camera and CookV snuck in a nanna-nap! (She said she was reading but I dunno...we were all pretty relaxed!!)

I have observed, within our dynamic little group, an amazing energy and connection. Some of us don't see each other outside of Cooking Club once a month. Yet when we are together we seem to tune in to each other subconsciously and things just seem to happen without much fuss or discussion. Around 4.30pm we all started to gravitate towards the kitchen and each attended to the tasks of assembling our much anticipated feast. CookEl was busy blanching her broad beans, CookA prepping her spinach and asparagus that had just been picked minutes earlier; my Oxtail needed another hour or so of gentle simmering and the excitement started to bubble as dinner time drew closer. Wine was poured, the table was laid and the usual chatter and discussion about who made what or which Maggie cookbook the recipe was from took over the kitchen!

In no time we were seated and started our culinary homage to that wonderful self taught, iconic Dame of Australian Cooking (not Margaret Fulton-the other one!), Maggie Beer. This is how it went:

Recipe by Maggie Beer
3 cups broad beans
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (evoo) plus last moment drizzle
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
80-100g pecorino
4 slices sourdough bread for bruschetta

Blanch the broad beans in boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes and refresh in cold water immediately. Heat a grill pan until hot, brush the slices of sourdough with a little olive oil and grill until well toasted on each side.
Add a little more evoo to the beans. Mix with mint and a little more evoo as needed. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Spoon onto the grilled bruschetta and serve with shavings of pecorino and an extra drizzle of evoo.


Recipe from Maggie Beer

1 ½ large Onions, roughly chopped
1 stick Celery, roughly chopped
¼ cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
70g shelled Walnuts 2kg Oxtail, trimmed and cut into 5cm pieces
Plain flour, for dusting
Sea salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
50g Butter, chopped
1 cup Red wine
2 cloves Garlic, finely chopped
5 stalks flat-leaf parsley
1 sprig Thyme
1 fresh Bay leaf
250g fresh or canned tomatoes, peeled and seeded
500ml Beef stock
500ml Water
2 strips Orange rind
20 black Olives
¼ cup Red Wine Vinegar
2 ½ tbsp Sugar

Preheat the oven to 220°C.

Toss the onion and celery with a little of the olive oil in a roasting pan, then roast for 20 minutes until caramelised.

Dry-roast the walnuts on a baking tray in the oven for 6 minutes, then rub their skins off with a clean tea towel and set aside.

Toss the meat in flour seasoned with salt and pepper, shaking off the excess. In a heavy-based frying pan, brown the oxtail in batches in the remaining olive oil and the butter over high heat. Transfer each batch to a large heavy-based casserole.

Deglaze the frying pan with the wine, scraping to release all the caramelised bits from browning. Add the garlic, onions, celery, herbs and tomatoes to the frying pan and reduce the wine a little over high heat, then tip the lot into the casserole.

Add the beef stock and the water, making sure that everything is immersed, and simmer over low heat, covered, until tender – this could take 3 to 4 hours.
Add the orange rind and olives in the last 20 minutes of cooking.

Strain the cooking juices from the meat and skim as much fat as possible from the top. Set the meat aside in a warm place.

In a stainless steel or enameled saucepan, combine the Red Wine Vinegar and sugar and boil until the vinegar has evaporated and the sugar has caramelised. Reduce the cooking juices to a syrupy consistency, then add the caramel mixture to taste.

Toss the cooked oxtail with the walnuts and pour the sauce back over the oxtail.

CookA created the most unctuous, smooth and buttery wet polenta, and sauteed spinach and those wonderful asparagus spears as well as crispy fried shallots for crunch. The perfect accompaniments to the sticky rich stew of oxtail. The tender meat fell off the bone without so much as a prod of the fork and was delicious. Oxtail has for too long, until now perhaps (!), been underrated, unlike its more glamorous cousin- the shin or osso bucco. Its not so much the economy of the cut ( expecially when you consider the ratio of flesh to bone) but its rich, beefy flavour and texture. Although at the end our plates appear as if we've just devoured some sort of dinosaur!

So, how do you follow that up? With a spectacular specimen of a country-style tart, like this one made by CookN.

Recipe from Maggie Beer

1 quantity Sour Cream Pastry

200g Chilled unsalted butter
250g Plain flour
125ml Sour cream

To make the pastry, dice the butter, then pulse with the flour in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and continue to pulse until the dough starts to incorporate into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Roll the chilled pastry out until 3 mm thick and cut to suit your chosen recipe.

Candied Cumquats

500ml Orange juice
440g Castor sugar
1kg Cumquats

Almond and Cumquat Filling

265g Almonds
1 tsp ground Cassia
1 tbsp Cumquat zest
40ml Brandy
125ml syrup from the Candied cumquats
Softened unsalted butter

Chocolate Glaze

175g Haigh’s bittersweet couverture chocolate
¼ cup Cream
50g unsalted Butter
1 ½ tbsp syrup from the Candied Cumquats
1 tbsp Brandy

To prepare the candied cumquats, bring the orange juice and castor sugar to a boil in a large non-reactive saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the cumquats and bring the pan back to a boil. Simmer until the syrup is thick and the cumquats have collapsed and appear slightly translucent. Store the cumquats in the syrup in the refrigerator or seal in airtight jars.

Make and chill the pastry as instructed. Roll out the chilled pastry until about 3mm thick and line a loose-bottomed 22cm flat tin with it. Chill the pastry case in the freezer for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 200°C. Line the chilled pastry case with foil, then weight it with dried beans or pastry weights and blind bake it for 15 minutes. Remove the foil and beans and return the pastry case to the oven for a further 10 minutes to ensure the pastry is crisp. Set the pastry case aside to cool. Leave the oven on.

To make the filling, roast the almonds on a baking tray for about 5 minutes, shaking the tray to prevent the nuts from burning. Allow to cool, then grind in a food processor.

Reduce the oven temperature to 175°C. Mix the ground almonds with the ground cassia and cumquat zest. Stir in the brandy, cumquat syrup and 120g softened unsalted butter. Pat the almond mixture into the pastry case and dot with a little more butter. Bake the tart for 30 minutes, until golden. Allow to cool to room temperature.

To make the glaze, bring a saucepan of water to a boil. Roughly chop the couverture chocolate and put it into a mixing bowl with the remaining ingredients. Turn the heat off under the saucepan, but leave the pan in place. Stand the bowl over the pan and stir gently until the chocolate has melted and all the ingredients have combined. Allow to cool, then pour over the filling in the tart. Leave at room temperature to set.

Serve with candied cumquats alongside.

Couverture chocolate: Don’t be tempted to use anything other than couverture chocolate for the glaze on this wonderfully rich tart.

Six full bellies dragged themselves away from the table, and straight into bed!

What a way to celebrate 5 years of cooking, learning, experimenting, eating, thinking and dreaming food.

17 October 2010


Just like Mamma used to make? Well, if your Mamma used to whip up this delectable, decadent and dangerously delightful treat then you must have been a VERY good girl!

This simple but spectacular torta is a Women's Weekly classic, made up of layers of properly made (what other way is there?) chocolate and vanilla custard, sandwiched lovingly between brandy, Kahlua and coffee soaked sponge cake. What's not to like?


Bottom row, from the left:

1. Caponata with lavosh
2. Stuffed Mushrooms
3. Grilled King Prawn skewers

Top row, from left:

1. Salt Cod Fritters, homemade aioli
2. Moorish Lamb Kebabs, roasted capsicum sauce

Somehow while I was busy stuffing my face with the first tapas, I didn't get individual photos of the Salt Cod Fritters or King Prawn skewers. All you need to know, however, is that it was all lip-smackingly, finger-lickin' good.


Look no further if you are after a sophisticated little bite that can be thrown together at a snip, presents beautifully with minimum fuss, that provides an explosion of creamy saltiness and crunch with a herby hit!


white button mushrooms; stems removed and finely chopped
100g Feta cheese, crumbled (we used the Margaret River brand)
Garlic chives, finely chopped
lemon thyme, leaves picked
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Peel mushrooms, toss in olive oil.
In a small pan, fry chopped mushroom stems in 1 tspn butter and 1 tspn of olive oil.
Add herbs and dash of white pepper, then the bread crumbs
Remove from heat and stir in 100g of crumbled feta cheese
Spoon into mushroom caps.
Bake in a hot oven (around 190 degrees C) for 12-15 mins

Then pour yourself a glass of wine and congratulate yourself on how quickly and easily you've assembled something that your guests will think you've spent hours labouring over!


This is based on Antonio Carluccio's version, adapted with a twist (by CookV!).


1/2 brown onion, diced
1 small red onion, diced
3-4 celery stalks including leaves, chopped
5 Tbs olive oil
2 large eggplants, chopped into 2cm cubes
1 Tbs capers, rinsed
20 large green olives, stoned and quartered
1/2 yellow capsicum, diced
1 tsp white sugar
1 tsp brown sugar
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
50g concentrated tomato paste

Blanch onions and celery in salted water for a few minutes, then drain.
Heat oil in a frying pan and brown the eggplant, you may need to do this in two batches
Then add onions, celery and all the remaining ingredients.
Stir well to combine. Cover and cook for 15 mins on low heat.
Assess during cooking, as you may need to add about 2 Tbs of water to loosen the mixture.
Cook for another 15mins.
Season to taste.

Serve with crackers, lavosh, crusty bread..I daresay you could smother this on almost anything!


12 October 2010


CookN whipped up the tastiest, morish dip of spinach, parmesan, cheddar and some other aromats served in a fresh, homemade cob of bread. The dense, chewy and slightly tangy interior was ripped out into chunks and served alongside the cob, which contained the dip. I am declaring now-it was the most delicious dip that has ever passed my lips - and I am not a big fan of dips! I will do you all a favour and post the recipe up asap!

*Just for the record, the pictured dip is not shown in the cob of bread, as there was a slight 'malfunction' with the cob we used that night :-)

You will need:

1 loaf of bread (one with a dense crumb and robust crust, such as a sourdough)
100g aged cheddar cheese
100g parmesan cheese
100g fresh or frozen spinach
2 cloves garlic
1 spring onion/shallot halved
80g cream cheese
100g homemade mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
Preheat oven to 180 degrees
To prepare cob loaf, cut the top off and hollow out the centre. Place onto a large square of foil to wrap the loaf with shiny side in. Reserve the centre of the loaf torn into rough chunks for dipping.
Grate or use a food processor to mill the cheddar and parmesan cheeses. Set aside.

Use the food processor or chop finely, the spinach, garlic and spring onion/shallot. Add remaining ingredients including the cheeses.

Place the mixture into a saucepan and cook, stirring on medium heat for approximately 10 minutes.

Pour into hollowed out loaf, replace the top and wrap the loaf, including the extra cubes in foil and bake for 10min or until toasted and hot. Serve immediately

10 October 2010


TAPAS - its the latest way to eat. You graze for hours over little plates of tasty morsels and whilst you may think you've only nibbled a bit of this or a little of that, by the end of all that nibbling will be the sense that perhaps your eyes were bigger than your stomach. Which, on this particular Cooking Club gathering, was the case for most of us!

Technically there is no structure (as with conventional dining you have starters, mains, dessert etc) but because of the occasion (Happy Birthday, CookEl!) the 'reserve' person also contributed a plate of something for that sense of celebration and indulgence!

The evening started with a complete bastardization of the Sangria, which itself comes in many guises. My version was made up of sparkling Rose wine, lemonade, a drop of rosewater, fresh orange juice, slices of fresh orange and some tequila. Hows that for summer in a glass!

Summer Sangria

Makes 3 Litres

2 x 750ml bottles sparkling Rose
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 cups lemonade
60ml tequila (or more, if you like it stronger)
1 tsp Rosewater (optional)
Fresh orange slices

In a large jug, place orange slices and pour over tequila and leave aside for 30 mins for flavour to deepen.
Just before serving, pour over the other ingredients and mix well to combine.

28 August 2010

Fresh Lemon Ice Cream

This fruity, zingy creation evokes those hot, summery days by the pool or down at the beach and crisp waffle cones towering with giant scoops of refreshing gelato-style ice cream! It isn't cloyingly sweet- in fact, there is a good tangy hit on the palate when it starts to melt in your mouth.
The beauty of this ice cream is that it has just 3 ingredients, and does not require an ice-cream machine or any of that crystal-breaking-up/churning malarkey. PERFECT.

I share this with you because it really is a recipe that everyone should have. Credits to Shona Crawford Poole's Iced Delights. I made twice the recipe and ended up with approximately 2 Litres of lemony lusciousness!

Fresh Lemon Ice Cream

3 juicy lemons, preferably unwaxed
420ml double cream
170g icing sugar


Grate the zest from 2 of the lemons. Squeeze the juice of all three and pour into a bowl with the zest and the sugar, stir to combine and leave for 30 minutes, if you can, to let the flavour deepen.
Whip the cream with 3 tablespoons of iced water until it holds stiff peaks, then whisk in the sweetened lemon juice. Turn into a container and freeze. No stirring, mixing or anything else needed.
Put it in the fridge about half an hour before serving.

Lemon & Ricotta Fritters

These golden, puffy clouds of ricotta scented with zest are quite addictive. Served with the Fresh Lemon Ice-Cream, they would be included in my list of things I'd eat for my last meal on earth!
(Who doesn't love a good doughnut??)

Here is the recipe-dead simple and so impressive.

Serves 8

4 eggs
zest and juice of half a lemon (I used the zest of the whole fruit)
500g fresh ricotta
1/3 cup caster sugar
1 Tbs baking powder
1 cup plain flour
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
pinch of salt
4 cups vegetable oil
caster sugar for dusting

Place salt, flour and baking powder in a bowl.
In another bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar to combine well. Add the ricotta, lemon juice and zest and vanilla. Mix well. Fold in the dry ingredients and let stand for 5 minutes before frying.

Heat the oil in a small-medium sized saucepan till hot. Using an ice cream scoop or small ladle, gently drop little scoops of the batter into the oil and fry till golden. Drain on absorbent paper. Toss in some caster sugar when they have cooled a little.

Note: Watch the heat of the oil if you are not using a deep fryer. My first few cooked too quickly and burnt within seconds.

Lemon Pistachio Nougat

The original recipe comes from the December 2002 edition of "Gourmet Traveller" magazine, and was actually for a clementine and almond nougat. I just substituted the almonds for pistachios, and the clementines for Cedro* and own-made candied lemons.

What you will need, more than anything else is a stand mixer with a good motor, or a strong arm! The egg white/syrup mixture has to be whipped till quite thick and by the time you add your dry ingredients, it becomes rather stiff. My kitchenaid only just managed it. The other thing is to have your ingredients all measured and ready to go, because the mixture starts to harden quite quickly so you don't want to be caught out trying to chop your candied lemons etc at the end.

* Cedro is the Italian term for the candied fruit of a citron tree. It has a deep, musky citrus flavour.

27 August 2010

Norwest Snapper Wrapped in Proscuitto

Proscuitto wrapped, Roasted Fillet of Norwest Snapper with Lemon, Herb and Garlic Butter served with a warm salad of Balsamic Roasted Vegetables and Fresh Greens

This recipe that inspired me was for Monkfish, however it isn't a common fish in Australia so I went for the freshest available on the day that was oven roast well.The piece of fish was around 1kg and was cut in half by the fishmonger so as to sandwich together, it served 6.


60g Butter, softened, extra for dotting
1 Tbspn chopped chives
1 Tbspn chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tspn finely grated lemon zest
1-2 Tbspns of Capers finely chopped
1 Garlic clove minced

1kg of Norwest Snapper, skin removed, cut into two fillets
8 slices proscuitto
2 lemons quartered

Mix all the butter ingredients together. Lay each slice of proscuitto on a work surface so that they overlap slightly looking like scales. Place one fish fillet on the laid out proscuitto, and spread the fillet with the butter mixture. Lay the other fillet on top so that the thinner part is laying on the thicker part of the other fillet giving you an even thickness.
Wrap the proscuitto around the fish and tie with a piece of kitchen string about 2.5cm apart. Place in a baking tray and dot with a few small bits of butter. This can now be refrigerated until you are ready to cook.

Wrapped Fish before baking

Squeeze two lemon quarters over the fish, bake in a preheated oven at 200C (Gas Mark 6) for 25-30 mins.

I quickly fried some caperberries in olive oil so they went crispy as a garnish. Caperberries are capers still attached to their stalks, so they look pretty! I just got them from the local supermarket.