Smoked Fish Pie

The other night our neighbour arrived with an enormous fish he’d caught at the weekend and smoked at home. We aren’t fisher folk so a freshly caught donated Snapper is a real treat, especially one that has been tenderly smoked to perfection.

We don’t generally go in for fish stews or casseroles as we prefer grilled or baked fish as opposed to fish that is watery or stodgy, I’m not really giving a good explanation here, but, well, we prefer drier fish to more soggy fish – hopefully that gets the point across. But this fish pie is a true exception to the rule. It isn’t watery, stodgy, soggy or dry for that matter, it is the perfect combination of flavour and texture that complements the fish beautifully.

It’s also one of those recipes that I’ve combined ideas from so has no set quantities or measurements.  It all depends on your preferences and how many people you are cooking for. I don’t use strong spices or flavours as the smoking has it’s own unique flavour which isn’t to be compromised in any way.

If you’re lucky enough to get your hands on some freshly smoked fish, or the plain variety if you aren’t keen on the smokiness, this is a delicious meal that can be accompanied by either freshly cooked vegetables or a lovely garden salad.

Smoked Fish Pie

ingredients:
smoked fish
frozen peas
spinach leaves
1 onion, chopped
olive oil for frying
butter
flour
milk
nutmeg
salt and freshly ground pepper
potatoes, peeled, chopped, boiled and mashed
bread crumbs (I love Panko bread crumbs) or you can use fresh if you have a food processor
cheese, grated (I used Edam so nothing clashes with the smokiness of the fish)

  1. Flake the fish, carefully removing any bones or scales that tend to hide in the meat.
  2. Chop the onion and fry in the olive oil until soft and tender. Add the spinach leaves and frozen peas and gently fry until all are cooked and the spinach is wilted.
  3. Melt the butter over a low heat on the stove. Add the flour and mix gently until there are no lumps. Allow the flour to cook for a minute or two, stirring all the while. Add the milk and form a roux, stirring while the sauce thickens. Once it has begun to bubble, turn the heat down and add a sprinkling of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Peel, chop and place them in a saucepan on the stove. Cover with water and bring the to the boil. Once soft, drain and mash however you normally mash them using butter, milk or water. They must be a very soft spreading consistency for layering over the top of the pie.
  5. Add the flaked fish to the pie dish. Cover with the cooked spinach, pea and onion ingredients. Pour over the white sauce. Cover with a layer of mashed potatoes. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top (helps to make it a bit more crispy) and finally, sprinkle the grated cheese over the top.
  6. Bake in a pre-heated oven at about 180°C for 25 minutes. Turn the grill on for the final five minutes to crisp and brown the topping.

Enjoy!

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Oven Roasted Cauliflower

The humble cauliflower – where to begin? Does it get a fair rap? Or is it always doused in cheese sauce? Once upon a time it was boiled into almost non-existence and could have passed as baby puree, but these days there are so many different ideas to make your cauliflower stand up and be noticed. Don’t get me wrong, I love cauliflower and cheese sauce, especially using different cheeses like creamy blue cheese or gruyere cheese, giving the sauce a beautiful tang, but when I recently bought a cauliflower the size of a medium pumpkin, I had to come up with a few novel ways of feeding it to my family instead of the same old same old…

This has to be one of the simplest, least time consuming ways and honestly, I’ll be amazed if you aren’t digging in for second or third helpings. The beauty of this dish is that most of the ingredients will be in your pantry, it’s just a matter of choosing what to combine with what. I like my veggies to still have a bit of a crunch to them. Well, here goes, give it a try – I know I love it.

Cauliflower

ingredients:
1 head of cauliflower, chopped into florets (obviously depends on how many you’re feeding)
extra virgin olive oil
a couple of cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 – 2 Tbsp grated lemon rind
juice of 1 lemon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
grated parmesan
chives, chopped

  1. Preheat the oven to 225 – 250°C, in other words, an extremely hot oven.
  2. Place the cauliflower in an oven proof casserole dish or roasting tray and drizzle with olive oil – not too much so it is swimming, but enough to fully coat the cauliflower.
  3. Add the garlic, lemon rind and lemon juice. Season with the salt and freshly ground black pepper and gently combine again.
  4. Cover with a good sprinkling of the parmesan cheese and roast in the oven for about 15 – 20 minutes – depends on how much you’re cooking. Stir the cauliflower a couple of times during cooking so it roasts evenly.
  5. Remove from the oven and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese and chopped chives. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!
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Baked Vanilla Cheesecake

Now who doesn’t like cheesecake? Not many people I know, to be sure. My husband is a huge fan but to be honest, I haven’t mastered the fancy ones yet. If you’re new to baked cheesecakes, this is probably the easiest one to start off with and is very tasty, although I have to admit a nice fruity coulis or perhaps a blob of Chantilly Cream, or even my old favourites – Lemon Curd or Chocolate Ganache poured over the top, would complement it very well. I normally just prepare the refrigerator ones, but there is an art to baking a cheesecake and a few things to watch out for.

Firstly, a cheesecake isn’t a cake, it is a custard and needs to be treated very gently and baked at a moderate temperature.  All ingredients MUST be at room temperature as this will assist with getting the cream cheese smooth. Beat the cream cheese until absolutely smooth prior to adding the eggs as overbeating the eggs may incorporate too much air which may cause the cheesecake to rise too quickly, causing the top to crack. Be sure to only beat the mixture after adding the eggs sufficiently to incorporate them into the mixture fully.

Secondly, if the oven is too warm or the cheesecake is left to bake for too long, it will be dry and the top may crack. If your recipe calls for you to bake it until firm, and you find that it tends to be dry, try another recipe. I’ve read that cheesecakes should still be slightly “jiggly” in the centre when finished baking. Obviously that doesn’t mean “runny” but certainly not firmly set like a cake.  Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect the first time you try it, hardly anyone gets it right the first time. It will take time and patience and of course, as with any baking, you have to know your oven really well in terms of the “true temperature”, best shelf height for the item you’re baking, and how long your creation should actually be left inside. Allowing the cheesecake to cool too quickly may also cause it to crack. Some recipes call for the cheesecake to be left in the oven to cool with the door ajar, but I worry that this may overcook the cheesecake, causing it to dry out so honestly, play around and see what works best for you.

I find that baking a cheesecake in a water bath or “bain marie” works well, but some bakers don’t like this method as if your tin leaks at all, water seeping into the cheesecake will obviously cause a huge flop. By wrapping the springform tin in a few layers of tin foil, this stops the water getting through and I find a water bath allows for a more even distribution of heat, helping the cheesecake to bake more evenly.

The recipe below is from an old Australian Women’s Weekly cheesecake recipe book so is well and truly “Tried and Tested” but if it doesn’t work for you or you have others you prefer, do whatever works for you.  I’ll try to be more adventurous next time :). Other bakers may have other useful tips but the above points certainly help the novice, like me.

Baked Vanilla Cheesecake

ingredients:
250 g plain sweet biscuits
125 g butter, melted
3 x 250 g packets/tubs cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup (165 g) caster sugar
2 Tbsp vanilla extract (Note that in Australia, 1 Tablespoon measures 20 mls, not the standard 15 mls as in many countries)
½ tsp grated lemon rind
2 Tbsp lemon juice
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup (180 ml) cream

  1. Process the biscuits until they resemble fine breadcrumbs. If you don’t have a processor, put them into a large Jiffy/Glad bag and remove all the air before sealing it. Then bash with a rolling pin – little kids love doing this!
  2. Add the melted butter and process until just combined or stir quickly to combine. Press the crumb mixture evenly over the base or base and sides of a 23cm springform tin. Cover the tin and refrigerate for 30 minutes or until the crust is firm.
  3. Meanwhile preheat the oven to moderately slow (!) – yes, that’s as helpful as the recipe is so I checked my oven’s manual and that is somewhere around the 160°C or 325°F mark.
  4. Beat the cream cheese until smooth, then add the sugar and vanilla extract, incorporating it well. Add the rind, juice, egg yolks and cream and beat until light and fluffy.
  5. Beat two of the egg whites separately in a small bowl with an electric mixer until firm peaks form and then fold this gently into the cream cheese mixture. Discard the remaining egg whites.
  6. Wrap the sides and bottom of the tin in a few layers of tin foil, sealing it very well (if using the water bath method). The original recipe doesn’t call for this but I prefer this method.
  7. Place the tin on a cookie tray or similar baking tray with sides as it holds the water or if not using the water bath method, it is still easier moving the cheesecake tin around on the tray.
  8. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the tin and place in the oven. With the door ajar and being careful not to burn yourself, pour hot but not boiling water into the cookie tray until it is a way up the side of the springform tin. Some of this water will evaporate during baking. Don’t overfill the tray as you don’t want any slopping into the mixture as you slide it fully into the oven…I hope this is clear and isn’t confusing.
  9. Bake for about one hour or until almost firm. Cool in the oven with the door ajar (I’m wary of this) or move to a cooling rack. Be careful when removing from the oven that the remaining water in the tray doesn’t splash onto you.
  10. When cool, refrigerate the cheesecake for at least 3 hours or overnight. Remove from the tin just before serving. You can gently slide an offset spatula around the sides of the cheesecake to help the sides to come away from the tin, but be careful. Releasing the springform tin gently should be enough to leave beautiful clean sides.

Enjoy!

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Toasted Pine Nut Coleslaw

With Spring well underway, I’m always on the lookout for fresh salad ideas.  The old “lettuce, cucumber and tomato” becomes a tad boring and there are so many new recipes to try – just Google an ingredient and literally thousands of ideas appear at your finger tips.

One of my family’s favourites is Coleslaw, traditionally a winter standby when other fresh produce was in short supply, but we love this as an accompaniment to cold meat or a lazy afternoon braai.  Be aware that this isn’t a “new-age” version with fancy flavour combinations.  I enjoy it’s simplicity, but the addition of toasted pine nuts makes it a bit special :).

The dressing is possibly my favourite part, but I suggest adding it just before serving as it can make the salad a bit watery if left to stand for too long.

Toasted Pine Nut Coleslaw

ingredients:
1 – 2 carrots, peeled and grated
about double the quantity of red or green cabbage as carrot, washed and shredded finely
1 bunch chives, finely chopped (optional)
2 Tbsp pine nuts (or seeds if you prefer, but I like the pine nut flavour)
1 handful raisins or sultanas
1 – 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Greek yoghurt (if you only have plain on hand, that’s fine, just add a dollop of honey)
juice of 1 lemon
1 tsp Dijon mustard

  1. Add carrot and shredded cabbage to a large bowl and combine.
  2. Add the chopped chives and raisins.
  3. Toast the pine nuts either on a tray in the oven set to 180°C for 5 – 10 minutes or in a saucepan over a medium heat on the stove top, but watch them carefully as they burn easily.
  4. To make the dressing: combine the last four ingredients and set aside until you’re ready to serve.
  5. Other optional ingredients are a chopped apple, finely chopped dried apricots or seeds to replace the pine nuts as mentioned above.

The colour is always beautifully vibrant, the crunchiness adds texture to any meal while the tanginess of the dressing adds a bit of a buzz.

Enjoy!

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Crustless Bacon, Mushroom and Leek Quiche

A few nights ago I was in one of those moods when I didn’t feel like eating what was on my meal plan and while gazing into the fridge for inspiration, I noticed a number of eggs that were begging to be used.  Now there can be very few cooked meals that are quicker, or should I say easier to prepare than this delicious savoury tart.  No pastry to make or defrost, you literally add all ingredients to the flan dish and bake for 35 minutes, although I prefer to fry a few of them together first.

It is also very versatile, so depending on the items you have in the fridge at the time, you could eat one of these a week and they might never be the same twice. You are limited only by your imagination, and it is amazing what ingredients work really well together in the form of a quiche.  Served with a fresh garden salad, it ticks all the health blocks too :). This recipe can be halved for a smaller size quiche, but as a main meal, I like it big and full of delicious ingredients.

Bacon, Mushroom and Leek Quiche

ingredients:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 leek, sliced
1 pkt bacon, sliced
200 g mushrooms, sliced
½ cup Gruyere cheese, grated
1 cup Edam cheese (you don’t want to overpower the Gruyere – or replace both cheeses with Cheddar)
4 eggs
250 ml milk or cream
60 ml flour
10 ml mustard
freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat your oven to 180°C and grease a small pie/flan dish or spray it lightly with oil.
  2. Gently fry the leek, bacon and mushrooms for a few minutes until tender. Remove from the pan and add to the pie/flan dish.
  3. Combine the milk/cream, eggs, flour and mustard together and pour over the ingredients in the pie/flan dish.
  4. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper and cover with the cheese.
  5. Bake for 35 minutes or until set.

Enjoy!

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Easy “no fail” Shortbread Cookies

Yesterday was the last day of the school holidays and my little man had a friend over to play, keeping each other busy for hours setting up marble racers, train tracks, army tanks…you name it.  I took this as my cue to withdraw to my lovely kitchen and create my favourite Shortbread Cookies.

All was going to plan until a disagreement erupted in the lounge and two little people came hurtling into the kitchen each wanting me to hear their viewpoint, but they stopped mid sentence when they realised I was rolling the cookie dough.  My tranquil peace abruptly ended as little hands scrummaged through the collection of cookie cutter shapes and little voices rose in crescendo about who should cut out their shape first. After twenty minutes of pandemonium, we ended up with aeroplanes, cars, shooting stars, snowmen, ice creams, Christmas trees and even a gingerbread man or two before they moved on to their next activity.

Peace returned to my kitchen sanctuary and I got to enjoy the repetitive pattern of my own choice of cookie cut outs. I have to admit that a warm fresh shortbread cookie straight out of the oven is one of life’s overlooked pleasures and peace returned, albeit for a short while, when the two little men got to sample their creations. Don’t be alarmed at the amount of butter in this recipe.  Shortbread is known to have lots of butter and this is what gives it it’s very distinct texture, along with the cornflour.Shortbread Cookies

ingredients:
250g butter, softened
½ cup castor sugar (or a quarter each castor and icing sugar)
2 cups flour
½ cup cornflour
pinch of salt
a little extra castor sugar for sprinkling (optional)

  1. Preheat the oven to 160°C (standard or 150°C fan bake) and line 2 oven trays with baking paper.
  2. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric beater until the mixture is light and fluffy and pale in colour.
  3. Sift in the dry ingredients and mix until combined.
  4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it gently for about a minute until it all comes together nicely. Pat or roll it out to about 10-12 mm thick and cut into the shapes of your choice. Dip the shape cutter into flour so the dough comes out easily. Place the shapes carefully onto the lined trays.  NOTE: They don’t rise or expand sideways as there is no raising agent in the dough so you can put them fairly close together. This does mean that the height the dough is when you cut out the shape, is the height the cookie will be – too low and the cookies may be crispy and overcooked.
  5. Sprinkle a little castor sugar over each shape (optional).
  6. Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until just starting to colour. I would suggest checking the cookies from about 20 minutes as oven temperatures vary and you don’t want brown shortbread!
  7. Allow to cool in the tray for a few minutes before moving to a cooling rack with a spatula.
  8. This quantity supposedly makes about 24 cookies, but that depends on the shapes and the thickness of the dough.

Enjoy!

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Fluffy Naan Bread

When eating curry, I find nothing nicer than using a fresh naan bread to soak up the gravy so I get every last tasty morsel.  I’m not a fan of very hot curry, in fact one of the ladies at dinner the other night described the way in which she measures a “too hot” curry: once the tongue starts going numb, she sees no point in carrying on with the meal.  I have to agree, once you’re reaching for the tissues and wiping not only your nose, but mopping your brow, the enjoyment – for me – is no longer there.

My friend made the most delicious chicken curry on Saturday. It was the perfect mix of tangy spicy sweetness and of course, my sambals and naan bread complimented it perfectly if I say so myself. Sadly I didn’t have the heart to ask for her recipe so apologies if I’ve got your taste buds working and now you’re disappointed, but if this has put you in the mood to prepare your all-time favourite curry at home, then please please please do yourself a favour and make these lovely naan breads to go along with it.  It takes some time, so a little planning is in order, but is actually very easy. I made individual round ones instead of the larger traditional tear-drop shaped ones.  This recipe made about 10 small ones as pictured, but you can always halve or double the ingredients if you’re looking for a different quantity.

Naan Bread

ingredients:
160 ml warm water
2 tsp caster sugar
2 tsp dried active yeast
250 g plan flour
2 pinches salt
4 Tbsp butter, melted
2 Tbsp plain natural yoghurt
2 cloves garlic, chopped finely (optional)

  1. In a large bowl, stir together the yeast, water and sugar. Let it stand for 5 – 10 minutes until frothy.
  2. Add the flour, salt, half of the butter and yoghurt. Using a blunt knife, stir the mixture until it comes together – the recipe author (calls it a “shaggy mess” – a great description! Then knead by hand until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 3 – 5 minutes. I turned it out onto a lightly floured surface to do the kneading and it came together beautifully.
  3. Cover the bowl with cling film and sit in a warm spot for 45 – 60 minutes or until it doubles in size.
    (Alternatively, you can place the bowl into the refrigerator for an overnight cold prove. If allowing for an overnight prove, remember to allow the dough to sit at room temperature for 1 hour before proceeding onto the next step.)
  4. Punch the dough down and knead gently. Divide into equal sized balls, the number of balls depending on how many naan breads you are wanting to make. Roll each ball into a naan shape (tear shaped) or smaller round ones, making them relatively thin.
  5. Brush a large frying pan with oil and wipe with a kitchen towel. Heat to a medium heat and place the dough onto it.
  6. Add the chopped garlic to the remaining melted butter. When the naan bread puffs up unevenly, brush some of the remaining melted butter on 5 – 6 random spots before turning it over to cook for a further 2 – 3 minutes or until the spots are browned.
  7. Transfer to a clean tea towel or tin foil and keep it warmed. I brushed them all with a little more melted butter before wrapping them in the tin foil but you can also leave them plain.

Enjoy!

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