Sweet potato cakes

sweet potato mixture

Plenty, 288pp.
by Yotam Ottolenghi
Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2011
Cooking on page 32

Yotam Ottolenghi is a popular Israeli-born British chef who is known for his superb vegetarian recipes. Plenty is his second cookbook and this is the second time I have cooked one of his recipes. The first one was caramelized fig, orange and feta salad.

He says the recipe here was inspired by the legendary sweet potato cakes he could buy at a small café, Orna and Ella’s, in Tel Aviv during his university days.

As a child, I wasn’t too keen on sweet potato, squash and/or pumpkin dishes, except for pumpkin pie. I think it was because my mother often added brown sugar to what was, in my mind, supposed to be a savoury vegetable dish.

So let’s see how this one turned out.

Sweet potatoes cakes

Sweet potato cakes

2¼ lbs peeled sweet potatoes, cut into large chunks
2 tsp soy sauce
scant ¾ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
3 tbsp chopped green onion
½ tsp finely chopped fresh red chile (or more if you want them hot)
plenty of butter for frying

3 tbsp Greek yogurt
3 tbsp sour cream
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp chopped cilantro (fresh coriander)
salt and black pepper

sweet potato, sour cream and yogurt cilantro, lemon and oil frying sweet potato cakes

Steam the sweet potatoes until completely soft, then leave in a colander to drain for at least an hour.

To make the sauce. Whisk together all the sauce ingredients until smooth; set aside.

Once the sweet potatoes have lost most of their liquid, place them in a mixing bowl and add the rest of the ingredients (except the butter). Mix everything together, preferably by hand, until the mix is smooth and even; do not over mix. The mixture should be sticky; if it’s runny add some more flour.

Melt some butter in a non-stick frying pan. For each cake, use a tablespoon to life some mix into the pan and flatten with the back of the spook to create a not-too-perfect disc that is roughly 2 inches in diameter and 3/8-inch thick. Fry the cakes on medium heat for about 6 minutes on each side, or until you get a nice brown crust. Place in between two sheets of paper towels to soak up the excess butter. Serve hot or warm, with the sauce on the side.

How it played out
Over the years I’ve come to love sweet potatoes, but I still prefer them with a savoury, rather than a sweet, twist.

I love all the ingredients for this recipe, so I made it as written, except that I didn’t bother to soak up the excess butter. Frankly, I didn’t use too much butter to begin with so didn’t feel the need to get rid of what was left.

Ottolenghi plenty cookbook

If you like sweet potatoes, or even if you think you don’t, give this recipe a try. It’s easy to make, nourishing, colourful and delicious. And the sauce is the perfect accompaniment. I bought more sweet potatoes and yogurt today, so we must like it. 🙂

Serve these as a side dish, or make them smaller and serve as an appetiser or a snack with drinks. Use the sauce as a dipper. I reckon everyone will love them.

We love potatoes. Here’s a link to a street-side breakfast stall where we ate wonderful Indian potato cakes. Yummo!

Posted in Dairy, Side dish, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments


castor sugar, eggs

The country show cookbook, 256pp.
from the Agricultural Societies Council of NSW
New Holland Publishers, Sydney, 2010
Cooking on page 132

This goldmine of award-winning recipes from country shows across Australia belongs to my friends, Denise and Tony. They loaned it to me after Denise made a sensational apricot yogurt cake for the monthly morning teas we have after our gym classes.

The book has six chapters covering the sorts of delicacies one sees on display at country shows (or country fairs as they are called in the USA). There are scones, cakes, pies and tarts, biscuit (cookies) and slices, pickles and relishes, and jams and spreads.

Page 32 has pictures only so I moved on to 132 and Australia’s iconic pavlova, by Wilma Bott of the Barellan Show.

Pavlova with fruit


4 egg whites
1 cup castor sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornflour

sugar, cornflour, lemon beating egg whites with sugar shaping pavlova to bake baked, cracked pavlova

Preheat oven to 150°C (300°F).

Beat eggwhites until soft peaks form. Gradually add castor sugar, beating until dissolved and mixture is thick.

Add the lemon juice, sugar and cornflour and beat on low into the meringue. Place sheet of baking paper on tray and make a circle with mixture to approximately 23cm (9 in). With a spatula work around the circle lifting as you go to make ridge around the pavlova. Bake in oven for 50 minutes. Leave in oven to go cold. When ready to serve, fill with cream and fruit of your choice.

When finished baking, leave the meringue in the oven, with door ajar, to cool completely. If you remove the meringue when it’s still warm it will cool too quickly and may crack or collapse.

How it played out
True confession. I’ve lived in Australia for most of the last 35 years and this is the first time I’ve ever made a pavlova. While Australia and New Zealand disagree on which country came up with this dessert first, everyone seems to agree that it was named after the Russian ballerina, Anna Pavlova.

Earlier this week, I made this as our dessert for company on Australia Day and, yes, I followed the recipe. The mixture didn’t get quite as thick/stiff as I’d hoped, but I didn’t realise that until I was spreading it on the baking pan. I’ll learn.

As suggested, I left the pav to cool in the oven, but it cracked anyway. My friend, Barb, who can make pavlovas in her sleep, says she uses vinegar instead of lemon juice. I don’t know if that makes a difference. They’re both a shot of acid.

Topped it all with whipped cream and thawed mixed berries that were rather juicier than I expected.

country show cookbook

For a first effort, it was pretty good. The dinner guests were most complimentary, but I’ve had better and prettier pavs in the past—Barb’s are especially fine.

Most of all, I was stunned to discover just how quick and easy it is to make a pavlova. Why haven’t I been making them before? I’ll fine-tune this in time.

P.S. Hope you like my retro, pink sugar container. I have a matching set for flour, sugar, rice, tea and coffee. Each one is a different colour. I love them.

Unlike Anna Pavlova, we haven’t spent a lot of time in Russia on our travels. But we have had some memorable experiences from our brief time there—including this one.

Feel free to check out the post I added to my travel blog on Australia Day.

Posted in Dessert, Eggs | Tagged , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Smoky aubergines with lemon and garlic dressing

eggplant salad

A Lebanese feast of vegetables, pulses, herbs and spices, 276pp.
by Mona Hamadeh
Constable and Robinson, London, 2015
Cooking on page 32–33

Poor John had three diplomatic postings in Lebanon—one for language training and two for work. I was along for the second work one. While it wasn’t the best time to be there—during the civil war in the early 1980s—it didn’t hamper our chances to enjoy sensational Lebanese food. The best tabouli, hummus and shish taouk (a chicken dish) I’ve ever had were in Beirut.

So I’m always a sucker for Lebanese cookbooks. This one did not disappoint.

smoky eggplant salad

Smoky aubergines with lemon and garlic dressing

2 large aubergines
1 small to medium onion, chopped
juice of 1 lemon
220g (2 small) tomatoes, chopped
1–2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 level tsp salt
a little chopped parsley, to garnish
a little olive oil, to drizzle
lemon wedges to serve

eggplant and cherry tomatoes garlic, lemon, parsley roasted eggplant onion, tomato, eggplant

For a smoky taste, roast the whole aubergines on the flame of a gas hob for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are soft.

When they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skin then rinse under a cold tap to remove any remaining skin.

Chop the aubergines and place in a bowl. Add the onion, lemon juice, tomatoes, garlic and salt.

Turn out onto a serving dish, sprinkle parsley over the top and drizzle with olive oil.

Cook’s tip
This dish is supposed to have the lovely smoky flavour that cooking over a flame gives, but if you only have an electric hob, you can cook the aubergines in an oven preheated to 220°C/425°F/gas mark 7 for 20 minutes. Prick the aubergines with a fork before roasting.

How it played out
I was too busy with other things to stand at the stove and roast the eggplants (aubergines) over a flame, turning occasionally, so I popped them in a hot oven instead. They took a little more than 30 minutes to soften.

Then I pretty much followed the rest of the recipe, using parsley and lemon from the garden, and cherry tomatoes and half a largish red onion. Too easy.

A Lebanese feast cookbook

I’ve probably already mentioned that my mother, a home economist, hated eggplant. I have no idea why.

Perhaps she never had anything as tasty as this recipe or the eggplant dip I made a couple of years ago from another page 32. While that recipe wasn’t as nice as my usual Middle Eastern babaganoush dip, I have to say that this salad is excellent and well worth making often.

News flash: Since making this the first time, I’ve made it two more times. Once I had to use limes instead of lemons. Both versions are excellent! It’s a really, really wonderful salad and might be a great way to convert anyone who thinks they don’t like eggplant. I’ve already bought two more eggplants so I make make it again this week.

I’ve not yet written about Lebanon on my travel blog, but I have done several posts on Syria, which shares a border. One of my favourite places in Syria, where we also lived, is the Crusader castle, the Krak des Chevaliers.

eggplant and tomato salad

Posted in Salad, Side dish, Vegetable, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Chicken with black olives and oregano

cooking chicken with herbs and tomatoes

The food clock: a year of cooking seasonally, 320pp.
by Fast Ed Halmagyi
HarpersCollinsPublishers, Sydney, 2012
Cooking on page 32

This is second time I have cooked from a book by Fast Ed Halmagyi. The first was his flavour-packed and huge muffuletta sandwich, which appeared in his cookbook, An hour’s the limit.

The food clock is more than a cookbook. In addition to 150 recipes, it combines short stories and sketches about a fictional Monsieur Henri Petit-Pois as he potters through the year in his garden, home and community. The recipes are simple to prepare and make the most of fresh, seasonal ingredients.

chicken with oregano and olives

Chicken with black olives and oregano

4 chicken marylands (thigh with drumstick attached)
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
90g (1/2 cup) marinated black olives, halved and pitted
1/2 preserved lemon (skin only), thinly sliced
250g cherry tomatoes
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 bunch of oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried chilli flakes

chicken browning preserved lemons fennel, oregano and preserved lemons

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, then sear in a large frying pan with the olive oil over high heat for 3 minutes, turning several times until well browned.

Mix in the olives and preserved lemon, then turn the heat to moderate and fit the lid. Cook gently for 15 minutes until the chicken is firm to the touch, then add the tomatoes. Cook for 5 minutes until the tomatoes are softened and the chicken juices run clear when pierced at the joint.

Stir in the fennel and chilli, scatter over the oregano, then serve immediately.

How it played out
I first heard of the chicken cut called maryland (thigh with attached leg) when I came to Australia in the 1980s. It’s not an expression I ever heard in the USA, but perhaps it has regional usage. All I know is that it’s the perfect combination for dark meat lovers like all of us. 

This recipe is easy-to-make, so I followed the instructions. That said, I cooked the chook (Aussie slang for chicken) in my Le Creuset frypan because the lid fits tightly. The pan’s enamel coating keeps the chicken from browning completely, but that’s more an appearance than flavour issue. 

The preserved lemon was from a batch my friend, Caroline, and I made last year. What a treat. Feeling brave, I used the mandolin to cut the fennel. Someday I’ll get used to that finger-slicing fiend. 

chicken and vegetable dish

While I like fennel—and am especially fond of a raw fennel salad with lemon and Parmesan cheese—I allowed the fennel to cook for a few minutes to take the edge off its rawness.

We thoroughly enjoyed the chicken, olive and oregano, but were rather disappointed with the fennel. It seemed to be an after-thought ingredient and I wouldn’t use it again in this recipe. Everything else about this recipe worked for us. 

The Food Clock cookbook

Oh, and I just realised that most of the pics don’t show much of the oregano garnish. My garden is overrun with oregano, but I took all these pics before I had sprinkled it liberally over the entire dish. Hey, these things happen.

If you’re a fan of chicken, you might like the post I did on a couple of fellows dealing with 20 kilos of chicken in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Or check out the amazing chef we encountered when we stayed at a classy campground on the banks of the Ganges River in India.

Posted in Main dish, Poultry, Vegetable | Tagged , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Frozen strawberry margarita

tequila, triple sec, lemon

Mexicali rose: authentic Mexican cooking, 160pp.
by Lori Horton
New Holland Publishers, Sydney, 2009
Cooking on page 132

This is the first of two cookbooks by Lori Horton of Mexicali Rose Restaurant in Melbourne. Her second book, Mexican authentic cooking, came out last year.

Mexicali Rose has been around for 35 years. While Horton has owned it for the last 12 years, she and her family have a long history with Mexican food and cooking.

Drinks don’t pop up often on page 32s, but this book has a margarita recipe. Oh yum! Especially because it’s red and Christmas.

strawberry margarita

Frozen strawberry margarita

sugar for frosting glasses
3/4 cup (180ml) gold tequila
1/2 cup (125ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
60ml (2 fl oz) triple sec
1 cup frozen strawberries
1/4 caster sugar
8 cups ice
fresh strawberries for garnish

Place enough sugar onto a saucer to cover the base to about 2mm deep. Run a lemon wedge around the rim of each margarita glass and dip each glass in the sugar to lightly coat just the rims. Set the glasses aside upright.

caster sugar, strawberries

Pour the tequila, lemon juice, triple sec, ice, strawberries and caster sugar to a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into the prepared glasses. Garnish with fresh strawberries.

Serves 4.

How it played out
I’ve been hanging out to make this recipe for holiday drinks and reckoned Christmas was the perfect time. Strawberries were luscious and on special at the markets yesterday afternoon, so I bought a pound of them for A$6. I used just under half for this recipe.

Made as written except that I don’t own a blender, so had to use the food processor, and I used regular tequila (not the gold version). Oh, and I was a tiny bit short of ice.

I don’t own proper margarita glasses, but I have some lovely dessert goblets that were fine for the job. They hold just over 5 ounces each (160ml), so the recipe made 6 drinks, rather than the suggested 4.

Confession: I’m not a big fan of cocktails, but I’ve always enjoyed a standard margarita with a salted rim. I wondered if this sweeter version would live up to my expectations, and I can report that it did in every way.

Mexicali Rose cookbook

We all enjoyed this festive drink. It was totally delicious, colourful and perfect for Christmas Day drinks. But, trust me, you don’t have to wait for a holiday to enjoy this.

Christmas is a time for joy, as well as sadness. It’s a chance to think of those who are no longer with us, and remember happy and sad times of the past. Syria will always have a place in my heart at Christmas. Libby, our first daughter, was born in Damascus, and had her first Christmases there.

In 2009, we were lucky enough to celebrate one more Christmas in Syria—before the war began. My heart still breaks for the people of Syria. If a Syrian family should come to your community as refugees, please welcome and support them. They are good people—whether Muslim or Christian.

Posted in Beverage, Fruit | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Black forest mussels with mushrooms and brandy

mushrooms, double cream and onion

The great mussel and clam cookbook, 128pp.
by various contributors
New Holland, Publishers, Sydney, 2002
Cooking on pages 32–33

Seafood was an uncommon ingredient in meals when I was growing up. It was the 1950s and transporting fresh seafood to Nebraska—smack in the middle of the USA—was a challenge. Of course, there were frozen options, but I can only recall my mother and grandmother cooking with fish fingers, tinned tuna and the fresh fish my grandfather caught in a lake during summers.

My first encounter with grilled fresh prawns was on the beach in Alexandria, Egypt. The prawns were gigantic and delicious. Near our table, a local fellow with stainless steel teeth played the bagpipes. How could I forget that?

My first memory of eating mussels was in Belgium in the 1970s, and the best I’ve ever eaten were on the mussel platter for two at The Mussel Pot restaurant in Havelock, New Zealand’s capital of green lip mussels.

I’m still trying to recreate some of the dishes from that amazing array of mussels and figured this book, which I bought secondhand at Canty’s Bookshop, might help.

Black forest mussels with brandy

Black forest mussels with mushrooms and brandy

30g/1 oz butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
145g/5 oz finely sliced black forest mushrooms or field mushrooms
1 clove garlic, chopped
1kg/2 1/4 lb black mussels, cleaned
100ml/3 1/2fl oz white wine
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons thickened or double cream
30ml brandy
fresh parsley

brandy and wine field mushrooms

Place butter, onions, mushrooms and garlic in a pot and cook over high heat for 5 minutes. Add mussels, white wine and seasoning. Cook mussels until all mussels have opened, stirring frequently, Add cream and stir for 30 seconds. Add brandy and cook for another 1 minute. Serve garnished with fresh parsley.

Serves 4.

How it played out
Most Sunday afternoons I head out to the Fyshwick Markets for the blitz of specials they have before the market closes for three days. Sometimes mussels are one of the bargains.

Last week I had success and bought a kilo of black mussels for $6. There weren’t any black forest mushrooms—not sure they are even available in Australia—but field mushrooms were plentiful.

Mussel and clam cookbook

Followed the recipe as written, using double cream, St Agnes brandy (an Aussie brand) and a nice dry Blind Side white purchased through Naked Wines, which supports new Aussie winemakers.

Luckily only one mussel didn’t open, so Poor John and I could have a real feast.

I served this with buttered slices of my homemade sourdough rye bread. It’s not on any page 32, but I’m happy to share the recipe if anyone is interested.

A yummy and light meal. Still not quite as good as any of the dishes we had in Havelock, but still well worth repeating whenever mussels are on special.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue my attempts to recreate a memory.

Christmas is nearly here. We’ll be having a lamb roast on the 24th and a spread of seafood on Christmas Day. That reminds me of our Christmas in Brazil’s Pantanal. We started the day fishing for piranha—they are so easy to catch—and then ate the catch for lunch.

mussels and mushrooms


Posted in Fish and seafood, Light meal, Main dish | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

Cannellini beans with rosemary, prawns and lemon

beans, garlic, oil

Cooking at home, 250pp.
by Karen Martini
Penguin Australia, Camberwell, Victoria, 2008
Cooking on page 32–33

I’ve always liked Karen Martini’s recipes. Although not found on any page 32, her Spanish-style spiced almonds are a family favourite, which I’ve tweaked a bit over the years. They’re better than anything you’d buy.

Her career in Australia’s food industry began at age 15 at Mietta’s in Melbourne. And she’s gone on to head top restaurant kitchens including the Melbourne Wine Room, Sydney’s Dining Room and her own artisan pizza restaurant Mr Wolf. She’s also been food editor of the Sunday Life magazine.

After she had her first child in 2006, she’s thought a lot about creating recipes that can be put together at home quickly and simply, and with great effect. This cookbook is the result.

Cannellini beans with rosemary, prawns and lemon

Cannellini beans with rosemary, prawns and lemon

200 ml extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, slice, plus 1 extra clove, peeled and left whole
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 400 g cans cannellini beans, drained
500–600 ml stock or water
3 sprigs rosemary, leaves chopped and ground in a mortar and pestle with a little sea salt
1 lemon
8 thin slices baguette or 4 large slices rustic bread, cut in half
5 large green (raw) prawns, peeled, deveined and chopped
1 handful flat-leaf parsley leaves, torn

cooking beans mashed beans

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the sliced garlic and cook for 3 minutes, then season with salt. Add the cannellini beans, stock or water and rosemary and cook for about 8 minutes or until the beans are very soft. Remove from the heat and drain (reserve the liquid).

Mash the beans with a fork or the back of a spoon (add some of the reserved liquid if the paste is too dry) and drizzle with 3 tablespoons olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Toast the bread and rub generously with the whole garlic clove. Spread with the mashed cannellini beans.

Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the chopped prawns and cook until they just change colour. Season, then add the parsley and a squeeze of lemon. Spoon the prawns over the beans and season with a generous grinding of black pepper.

Serves 8 as a starter or antipasto.

How it played out
I made half a batch, using one can of beans, vegetable stock and a total of 3 tablespoons of oil (or about 45 ml instead of 100 for half a batch). I used 1 1/2 tablespoons to fry the garlic and then another 1 1/2 tablespoons to finish off the beans. I didn’t need to add any of the reserved liquid.

I bake bread a couple of times a week, so used a couple of slices of a nice rye instead of baguettes. One of these days I’ll get around to making my own baguettes. Anyone got a good recipe?

Karen Martini

Super easy to make. The cannellini mixture was so completely delicious that I ate a few spoonfuls of it before spreading it on the toast. The chopped prawns on top were nice, but not essential. I reckon the beans on toast plus the chopped parsley would make a great starter (appetiser) or antipasto offering.

You’ll notice from the photo below that I added a bit of cocktail sauce to the finished toast—just to add a bit of zing to the prawns.

P.S. Poor John and I each had two largish pieces of toast and there was enough leftover for a good-sized third serving. A bit of yum for tomorrow!

Some of you may know the musical properties of beans—as in ‘beans. beans, musical fruit’. Here’s one of our South American experiences with beans.

Cannellini beans with rosemary, prawns, lemon and cocktail sauce

Posted in Appetiser, Fish and seafood, Snack | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments