Category Archives: Recipes

Chocolate chiffon tart with macerated strawberries

My brother has hit the mid 40s. It’s hard to believe. Ben and I are the youngest of six boys and a more than a decade apart. I remember the day of his birth and those that followed like yesterday. I would hover outside the newborns viewing room at the Dandenong Hospital for hours at a time, staring through the glass at this new little brother of mine.

IMG_2670To celebrate his birthday, I cooked Ben dinner and took it to his place: an entree of pan-seared scallops atop a bed of mango and avocado with a lime and coconut dressing; a delicious slow-roasted lamb leg encased in a marinade of onions, chilli, ground cumin and garlic; a salad of grains and fresh herbs and a rich yoghurt dressing laced with cumin seeds, honey, and a handful of pomegranate gems — and served with warm turkish bread. It was good.

We finished the night with a chocolate tart. Its recipe is inspired by a pastry cook I worked with years ago and prompted in my memory by a similar dessert I found more recently here. It provides a rich chocolate taste but without cream or butter to weigh it down. Encased in a chocolate shortbread-like crust and topped with some macerated strawberries, it’s a lighter but lovely end to a meal. Ben had seconds. So did I.


For the pastry

  • 130 grams of butter
  • 80 grams of caster sugar
  • 150 grams of plain flour
  • 50 grams of Dutched cocoa

For the chocolate filling

  • 3 gelatine leaves
  • 130 grams of good quality dark chocolate (70%)
  • 60 mils of strong espresso coffee
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 80 grams of caster sugar
  • A few drops of vanilla essence

For the strawberries

  • 1 punnet of strawberries, topped and halved
  • 1 teaspoon of icing sugar
  • 2 teaspoons of Cointreau or Sherry


To make the pastry

  • Preheat over to 180C.
  • Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until a thick and pale consistency.
  • Add the flour and cocoa and mix at low speed until well combined.
  • Tip the dough into a 23cm flan tin and work the dough gently with your hands to cover the base and the sides. What you want is a thin layer of pastry dough spread evenly.
  • Refrigerate for 10 minutes before baking the pastry shell for 15 minutes
    Set aside to cool.

To prepare the strawberries

  • Add the icing sugar and Sherry of Cointreau to the strawberries and leave covered for an hour or so. The strawberries will soften slightly and become syrupy.

To make the filling

  • Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl of cold water for around 5 minutes.
  • Place the chocolate and coffee into a small heatproof bowl and place the bowl over a simmering saucepan of water. Stir until the chocolate has melted and is of a smooth consistency. Set aside.
  • Retain a couple of tablespoons of the simmering water in the saucepan and add to it the softened gelatine leaves, stirring to dissolve.
  • Add to the chocolate mixture and still well.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks, vanilla and half of the sugar until thick and pale in consistency.
  • Whisk in the chocolate mixture until well combined. Chill for 15 minutes or so.
  • Whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form and add the remaining sugar a little at a time until it forms a glossy meringue.
  • Fold the meringue into the chocolate mixture and scoop the filling into the cooled pie crust.
  • Leave to set.

Remove the tart from the flan tin and top with the macerated strawberries. Serve with a generous dollop of thick unsweetened cream, or just as it is. It’s good either way.


I’ve never been to South America, nor to Spain. My first encounter with an empanada (from the Spanish verb empanar: to wrap or coat in bread) happened when I was living in Los Angeles twenty years ago. I bought one from a street vendor at Venice Beach. While the memory of the vendor is cemented by his bare chest, goanna tattoos and plats, my recollection of the empanada lingers as one I’ve never been able to repeat. The combination of a thin, lardy pastry filled with the most gorgeous, spicy meat concoction was close to heavenly.

The-Cooks-Table-Cover-SmlMy memory was prodded this weekend leafing through Stephanie Alexander’s The Cooks Table. Her recipe for spicy pork empanadas is in turn inspired by two encounters of her own: one in Spain—with a blend of cod fish and egg wrapped in a delicate pastry enhanced with a dash of fino sherry—and the other in Beunos Aires, Argentina—a spicy beef filling encased in a much more robust pastry made with lard.

With my trust more in Stephanie than in me, I decided to give them a go. The result may not have been as heavenly as I remember, but these are seriously good. The polenta blended with the flour and dusted on the bench top makes the pastry almost crisp to the bite. And the filling is a moist and complex blend of tastes that works a treat. The recipe is not too hard and certainly worth a try.

Here’s what you’ll need

IMG_2645For the empanada dough

  • 200 grams of plain flour
  • 50 grams of polenta
  • Seal salt
  • 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • 40 grams of melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons of fino sherry
  • 60 mils of water

IMG_2644For the filling

  • 60 mils of olive oil
  • 250 grams of minced pork
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 100 grams of preserved piquillo peppers, drained and roughly chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons of roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon of fennel seeds, ground using a pestle and mortar
  • ½ teaspoon of hot chilli paste
  • 1 tablespoon of homemade tomato sauce or a good quality passata
  • 1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
  • A pinch of sea salt
  • 1 egg, lightly whisked

Here’s what you do

To make the dough

  • Combine the flour, polenta and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  • Mix together the olive oil, butter and sherry and add to the flour mixture.
  • Work the combined ingredients together with your hands, adding in the water as needed, until it forms a ball and comes away from the edges of the bowl.
  • Transfer the dough to a benchtop dusted with flour and knead it for a minute or so.
  • Wrap the dough in plastic film and set aside to rest for an hour while you make the cool the filling.

To make the filling

  • In a large, heavy-based frypan, heat half the olive oil.
  • Add the mined pork and stir with a wooden spoon, cooking the mince until it is evenly cooked, even slightly browned.
  • Tip the mince into a bowl and set aside.
  • Add the remaining oil to the frypan, and saute the onions, piquillo peppers and garlic over medium heat for three minutes or so.
  • Add in the parsley, fennel seeds and chili paste and cook for a few more minutes.
  • Add in the minced pork, tomato sauce or passata, paprika and salt, and cook for a further five minutes, stirring as you do.
  • Set aside to cool a little.

To construct the empanadas

  • Preheat the oven to 220C.
  • Line a large baking tray with baking paper.
  • Dust the benchtop with polenta.
  • Divide the dough into twelve even portions and roll each portion into a disc about 12 centimeters across.
  • Divide the pork filling evenly between the discs.
  • Brush the edges of each disc with the egg wash.
  • Fold over each disc into a half moon shape.
  • Seal the edges of each empanada with a fork and brush each one generously with egg wash.
  • Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Cool a little before serving. The filling may be hot!

I served mine with a chunky tomato salsa.My son added some sour cream to his. Of, course, they taste great just as they are.



Pear cake

I love pears. They are an elegant fruit, and can add a sense of class to a fruit bowl, or to a meal for that matter. The right pear is a perfect accompaniment for a slow roasted pork, a fine match with ricotta, caramelised onion or balsamic. At the sweet end of things they make the loveliest tart or a seductive finish to French toast.

IMG_2599I’m not so keen on the Nashi variety (a bit a watery non-event in my book) but Packhams, Williams, Bosc, Corella or Winter Nelis … I’m not fussed, they’re all good.

A couple of weeks back we headed up to a friend’s farm in Nagambie and picked a basket full of Buerre Bosc. Delicious. With the left overs I made a pear cake to share at church this morning. Lovely.


  • 4-6 medium-sized pears
  • 150g of butter at room temperature
  • 250g of castor sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • Finely grated rind of two lemons
  • I teaspoon of vanilla essence
  • 2½ cups of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • ½ cup of milk


To prepare the pears

  • Peel, quarter and core the pears, cutting each quarter into three even slices.
  • Add them to a saucepan with ½ cup of water. Cover and simmer for around five minutes. You don’t want to cook the pears as much as blanch or soften them.
  • Drain the pears and set aside to cool.

To make the cake

  • Preheat the oven to 180C.
  • Grease and flour a 20cm springform cake pan.
  • Combine the butter and sugar in an electric mixer and beat for approximately 10 minutes. The mixture should be a lovely creamy texture and the sugar dissolved.
  • Add the eggs one at a time, beating well between additions.
  • Add the lemon zest and vanilla.
  • Combine the flour and baking powder. Sift and add to the mixture along with the milk and blend on low speed for another minute or so.
  • Transfer half of the cake mix into the springform pan and spread evenly.
  • pear-cake-452Add half the pears, fanning them around evenly.
  • Add the remaining cake mix and spread gently and evenly over the pears.
  • Add the remaining pears, fanning out around the top of the cake.
  • Bake for approximately 1¼ hours, or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Remember to keep your eye on the cake as it cooks. Should the top of the cake begin to darken too much, you can cover with a loose sheet of foil to keep it from burning.
  • Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool.

You can dust the top with icing sugar or drizzle over a thin lemon icing (combine some icing sugar, the juice of a lemon and a tablespoon of melted butter), whichever you prefer.

Either way, eat slowly … with coffee, with friends, but not alone. Pears taste better in company.


Dad’s lamb stew

My dad came for dinner tonight. He’s not fussy, but he’s proud — a meat-and-potatoes man. No pastas or risottos for him, and certainly no ancient grain salads. Dad likes it simple: a good roast dinner with crispy spuds and gravy, or a slow-cooked lamb stew.

His taste for lamb is no surprise. Raised on a sheep farm in the Mallee, dad remembers a lamb butchered every fortnight and shared with the neighbours. On the alternate week the neighbours reciprocated. It was a good arrangement for a place with no refrigeration. He tells me of the large cast iron pot that simmered constantly on the wood stove. What began as a hearty lamb soup would last for days, reducing to a thick stew in the bottom of the pot.

So, tonight it was dad’s lamb stew.

The only complication was, my beloved and I are off fat and carbs for a bit. This meant a few provisos: the lamb had to be lean; the oil for browning had to be coconut oil; the usual roux (flour and butter) for thickening was off limits; and the potatoes (essential to a good Mallee pot) had to be added whole so they could be fished out by the purists. Regardless, it turned out ok. Better than ok, in fact. It was good. Even dad said so.

img_2513Here’s what you need:

  • 1 kg diced lamb
  • 1 dessert spoon of coconut oil
  • 1 lean rasher of bacon (finely diced)
  • 12 small brown onions (peeled but left whole)
  • 2 carrots (peeled and diced)
  • 2 celery sticks (diced)
  • ½ red capsicum (diced)
  • 5 cloves of garlic (peeled and finely sliced)
  • 4 medium sized ripe tomatoes (peeled and roughly chopped) or 1 can peeled tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • ¼ cup of worcestershire sauce
  • I litre of stock
  • Salt and pepper
  • 12 small washed potatoes

img_2515For a bouquet garni: with a short length of kitchen string, tie together 2 stems of parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1 sprig of rosemary and 2 bay leaves.

Here’s what you do:

  • In a large, heavy-based cooking pot (preferably cast iron), heat the oil over high heat.
  • Add handfuls of the diced lamb, browning the pieces so as to seal in the juices. Don’t do too many pieces at once. You don’t want the meat to stew, but to brown quickly. You’ll need to do several batches. Once it’s all browned, set the meat aside.
  • In the same pot with whatever oil remains, and still on high heat, brown the onions all over and then set aside.
  • Still on high, add the diced bacon to the pot and brown the bacon until its crispy and ready to pop. Set aside.
  • Add the carrots, celery, capsicum and garlic to the pot and saute over high heat for a few minutes.
  • Add the tomatoes and tomato paste, worcestershire, salt and pepper, and continue cooking for another five minutes.
  • Add the stock and bring it all to a slow boil then lower the heat and maintain at a simmer.
  • Add the lamb, onions and potatoes.
  • Add the bouquet garni to the pot with the string draped over the side.
  • Cover and keep the stew on a low simmer for approximately 1½ hours.
  • Remove the pot from the heat, discard the bouquet, add the bacon, and let the stew rest for 10 minutes.

Serve the stew in generous bowls along with some crusty bread. Though no bread for the purists. And no potatoes either. But the rest is good.


Basque Pear Tart

finedininglovers-fr-img-crosscast-system-comMy only brush with the great Paul Bocuse was via the short-lived Melbourne outpost of his nouvelle cuisine empire. It was the early 90s in an uber cool space of whites and ivories attached to the now defunct Daimaru department store in Melbourne Central. Though I didn’t get to meet the man himself, I did meet his protege Philippe Mouchel who headed the kitchen. What the heck, he was French and I was grateful.

I inherited a Bocuse recipe book recently. A friend was culling and I pounced. I assumed it was a book I would admire rather than use, but not so. It’s full of accessible dishes that are a wonderful tour of the provinces of French home cooking. I like it.

One recipe is a for what’s called a Gâteau Basque, a ‘cake’ that originated in the kitchens of the Basque people, those fiercely independent farmers of the Pyrenees on the border between France and Spain.

Now to call this a cake is deceptive. A flan maybe; a pie, a tart, but it’s not a cake. Bocuse’s picture is deceptive too, all deep and high. What this is is a buttery, lemon-scented pastry top and bottom filled with a traditional French pastry cream. Make up the quantity of pastry cream prescribed, however, and depth is not the outcome. So I’ve improvised. My gâteau Basque is a tart with some seasonal poached pears layered over the pastry cream. It works for me. And it’s delicious.

Here’s what you need:

For the pastry

• The fine zest of one good-sized lemon
• 3/4 cup of sugar
• 1/2 teaspoon of salt
• 1 egg
• 1 egg yolk
• 150 grams of softened butter
• 2 cups of plain flour

For the poached pears

• 3-4 ripe pears
• 1/2 cup of water
• 3 cloves
• 1 tablespoon of sugar

For the pastry cream

• 2 egg yolks
• 1/4 cup of sugar
• 1/4 cup of plain flour
• I tablespoon of rum
• I cup of milk
• 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon of vanilla essence

Here’s what you do:

Preheat the oven to 180c.

To make the pastry, combine the sugar, salt, lemon zest, whole egg and egg yolk in a mixing bowl and whisk by hand. Add the butter a little at a time, whisking until it’s all combined into a light yellow, lemony paste. Add the flour and work it together until a dough forms. Tip the dough out onto a well floured bench and kneed lightly until it comes together into a ball. You don’t want to overwork it. Place the dough in the fridge.

To poach the pears, peal and quarter them, removing the cores. Cut each quarter into thin slices and place in a saucepan with the water, sugar and cloves. Bring the pan to a gentle simmer and let the pears poach for about five minutes. You don’t want to overcook them. Set aside to cool.

To make the pastry cream, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until the mixture turns a lemony yellow. Stir in the flour and the rum. In a heavy bottomed saucepan bring the milk and vanilla to a simmer. Slowly add the hot milk to the egg mixture, whisking as you do. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens and returns to a simmer. Don’t walk way and do something else. You’ll be sorry. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool a little.

img_2255To assemble the tart, divide the dough into two portions. Roll out one portion to line the bottom and sides of the flan tin. Trim the edges. Fill with the cooled pastry cream, spread evenly and gently over the dough. Layer the pears over the pastry cream. Roll out the second portion of pastry and place over the pears, sealing the dough at the edges.

Brush the pastry top with a lightly whisked egg. Pull a fork across the top of the pastry to create a grid then place in the oven for 45 minutes.

Let the tart cool in the flan tin before removing it. Serve up generous slices with dollops of thick cream and imagine you and Paul sitting in a little Basque kitchen speaking French, him complimenting you on your wonderfully creative improvement to his recipe.

Bon appétit!


Slow cooked beef shin, with a Thai-inspired twist

I’ve always loved the idea of slow-cooked meat, the sort that falls off the bone and disintegrates in your mouth. When it’s done well, the flavours are wonderful. And then there’s that glorious aroma that wafts from the kitchen as you sit back on the couch with a book and a glass of iced-tea. It’s the oven that does the work.

Of course, slow-cooked means forethought. And frankly, occasions for that are rare. Most weekdays I walk into the kitchen with no more than an hour to make good with whatever’s been left out to thaw that day. Slow is not a thing. Still, there are weekends and with just a little planning, a decent slow-cook is really quite easy.

Earlier this year, in the heat of the post-Christmas summer, I tripped over a recipe from the English chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. While I normally associate slow-cooked meat with the cold of winter, Hugh’s recipes for a Thai version reminded me that I’ve eaten some of the best slow-cooked meats in the heat of South East Asia.   Inspired by the thought, I’ve taken Hugh’s recipe and adapted it to my own taste. Served with a bowl of lightly dressed salad leaves and herbs from the garden, this is good, relatively cheap to make, and a great end to a summer’s afternoon.


IMG_3191a 1.5 kg piece of beef shin, off the bone. Also known as the shank (or gravy beef), the shin is taken from the animal’s lower leg. It’s a well-worked muscle full of connective tissue that breaks down through slow-cooking. The result is a moist and tender meat with a really rich flavour. I like it.
1 good-sized red onion, peeled and chopped into large pieces.
2-3 stems of lemongrass. Give them a few good whacks with a meat tenderiser or the flat side of a cleaver to release the flavour.
A couple of fresh chilies (whatever ones you have available), roughly chopped. I leave the seeds in, but you can deseed if you prefer.
A handful of garlic cloves (4-6), peeled and sliced.
A knob of fresh ginger (about 30 grams or so), peeled and thinly sliced.
4 fresh kaffer lime leaves, scrunched up.
3 tablespoons of fish sauce.
3 tablespoons of rice vinegar.
2 tablespoons of sugar.
• 1 cup of water.
Some veggies, depending on what’s in the garden or the fridge. Hugh recommends a couple of fresh leeks chopped up, though my kids are less keen. Last time I used some small eggplants from my beloved’s garden along with her cherry tomatoes of various colours. Oh, and a red capsicum.
the juice of 2 large limes.
a generous handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped.
a less generous handful of Thai basil leaves.


• Preheat the oven to 220c.
• Cut the meat into handful-sized chunks and toss into a large roasting pan. Season with some salt and pepper and roast for about 20 minutes. No oil necessary. The meat should be nicely browned and sitting in lots of its own juice. Take the pan out of the oven and reduce the heat to 150c.
• Add to the meat the red onion, lemongrass, chilies, garlic, ginger and limes leaves. Combine the fish  sauce, vinegar, sugar and water and pour over the meat. Stir well. Cover the roasting dish with foil secured at the edges and return to the oven for 1.5 hours.
IMG_3194• Take the pan from the oven, carefully lift the foil without tearing it and stir in the veggies. Re cover and return to the oven again, this time for 1 hour.
• Remove the roasting pan from the oven and set the foil aside. Squeeze over the lime juice and scatter the coriander and basil leaves.

Serve the meat with steamed rice and some salad leaves or fresh steamed green veggies, whichever you prefer. Now back to the couch and enjoy! You’ll need a serviette or three, and a toothpick once it’s gone.





Apricot and olive oil cake

So it’s my last day of leave, my daughter departs for India tomorrow, and apricots are in season. These factors converging, tonight’s dinner was one of lamentation, celebration and some serious apricot consumption.

My choice for an apricot dessert was further inspired by two factors. First, a week ago we headed up a friend’s farm in Nagambie and picked the most gorgeously delicious apricots straight off the tree. In contrast to the mealy things commonly available in supermarkets, these were a reminder of just how close to divine fresh stonefruit can be. Secondly, I salivated over a recent episode of the SBS series Made in Italy with the ever-so-slightly attractive Silvia Colloco. She made an apricot and olive oil cake. Actually she called it a torta all’olio e albicocche, though if I tried to say that you’d be laughing too hard to read on. So I won’t. Oh, and just so things are clear, I salivated over the cake, not Silvia.

IMG_0133So tonight we feasted on home made pizzas (which weren’t half bad!)  and still-warm-from-the-oven torta all’olio e albicocche doused with fresh ricotta cheese and drizzled with honey. At least my lamentations had a sweet ending.

You can find the recipe here. No need for me to restate it. Oh, and don’t leave out the Sambuca. Your beloveds may not appreciate the smell of it straight from the bottle, but in the cake it adds a bite too good to do without.

Really, you should do this. It’s sinfully easy, and it’s good.

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