Inspired by a bumper crop from our chilli bush I recently created this very quick and easy recipe. It’s been a real hit with the family and is so versatile – so far we’ve tried it with chicken, prawns and minced beef, but it would be equally delicious with cooked pork, beef, lamb or white fish. This is a great way to use left-overs!
1 medium – large onion sliced in half-moons
1 large red capsicum roughly sliced – 3cm strips
1 – 2 small red chillies – seeds and all – chopped finely (I use 2 – seriously hot!)
1 generous tablespoon (or more) Thai red curry paste (medium heat)
1 medium tomato skinned and chopped
Handful of frozen baby green beans – snap the longer ones in half
Tablespoon lime or lemon juice
270ml can of Coconut Cream
Saute onion in heated oil for a couple of minutes then stir through capsicum and chilli, cooking gently for another minute or two. Add the curry paste, heat through, then incorporate the sugar and lime/lemon juice, stirring gently.
Whilst this mixture simmers, add the chopped tomato and frozen beans.
Pour in the coconut cream and stir though. Continue simmering gently uncovered for a further five minutes. At this point you can add the cooked meat of choice – I like to use chopped BBQ chicken (about a cup and a half of) – I have also used beef mince – about 400g. Cooked prawns was another popular variation.
Heat through for 5 – 10 minutes stirring occasionally. Serve over rice or noodles or incorporate 2 or 3 packets of cooked (al-dente) 2 minute noodles into the sauce just before serving. Serves 4.
NOTE: A handful of lightly-toasted cashew nuts adds crunch and a flavour kick! Either stir through in the final minutes of cooking or scatter over as a garnish.
ALSO: This curry is just as enjoyable without the addition of meat – serve it as a vegetarian meal – experiment with complementary vegetables – add chunks of potato, pumpkin, whole baby mushrooms or zucchini pieces.
BEST PUMPKIN SOUP – EVER! (Even if I do say so myself!)
Inspired by a very good pumpkin soup I’d recently enjoyed at my favourite art centre café, I set about creating an even better version. Theirs was made with coriander (cilantro) but I think the flavour balance is better without. It would be nice as a garnish though. I’ve also boosted the coconut and ginger flavours. I’m calling it Ginger Pumpkin Soup. It’s so sweet and yummy that it can be eaten as a cold soup, but do try it hot first. I use Jap (Japanese) Pumpkin – also known as Kabocha or Kent pumpkin, but I’m sure Butternut, Queensland Blue or any sweet, bright orange variety would do.
GINGER PUMPKIN SOUP
Half (or approx 1.5 kg) of Jap or similar pumpkin, peeled and chopped – choose the brightest orange piece you can find – it will be more flavoursome.
Large brown onion – chopped
Approx 30g (1oz) butter
Vegetable stock or, as I do, water and 1 tablespoon of a quality vegetable stock powder like Vegeta
1 rounded tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
270ml tin coconut cream
De-seed the pumpkin and cut into large chunks. I find it more efficient to slice the skin off with a large knife after “chunking” rather than using a peeler.
In a large pot melt the butter and saute the chopped onion for 5 – 10 minutes, stirring occasionally – do not let it catch and brown.
Add the chopped pumpkin and saute for a few more minutes, stirring to cook the pumpkin pieces evenly.
Stir in the ginger, then cover and simmer gently until pumpkin is tender (approx 15 -20 minutes – test with skewer).
Remove pot from heat and puree the soup in the pot with a stick blender if you have one, otherwise process it in batches in a jug blender or food processor.
Return soup to heat and stir through the coconut cream. Cover and simmer gently for 20 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Serves 4
Gabriella and I find lemons indispensible in the kitchen – we use the juice to flavour yellow and green curries and make marinades and dressings. Lemon juice has preservative properties and squeezed over sliced apples, bananas or avocados will delay oxidisation (browning). When making apple dishes like apple sauce, apple pies and sponges, a teaspoon or two of finely grated lemon zest will preserve the apples’ colour and inject a lovely fresh tang. Of course lemon juice is also used widely in the drinks department, great for cordials and cocktails and a lemon slice or two will make any fruity summer tipple more enticing.
Tip: Freeze surplus lemon juice in iceblock trays.
It is so nice to see afternoon tea parties embraced again in recent years – it’s something I rather took for granted, having very fond memories of such events at my grandmother’s home. She mixed with lots of creative people – artists, actors and writers, so gatherings at her beautiful house in Belgravia were very colourful and entertaining, even from my perspective as a child. There was quite a sense of occasion – her friends seemed so flamboyant and amusing and of course her teas were lavish full silver service affairs, with the most wonderful cakes and perfect little sandwiches. (She didn’t actually have to prepare these things herself, but was nonetheless a charming and popular hostess and very good at bringing people together).
Afternoon Tea is traditionally taken between 3 and 5p.m., but of course in today’s world of working women and busy schedules flexibility is allowed. In any case – the appropriate duration is 1 – 2 hours – this can be alluded to in your invitations.
A tea party is a lovely way to introduce new friends to your circle or renew old acquaintances. It can be a very elegant event or simply a relaxed catch-up. Most can find a couple of spare hours in their diaries.
Usually I invite up to 8 persons and mix and match my guests carefully to keep it lively and interesting. I like to set a themed table – event or seasonal – or something entirely random – like “In The Pink”, “Celebration of Roses” or “Fashion Week” – whatever seems fun or relevant at the time – the objective is to make the occasion as entertaining as possible.
This is an opportunity to lay a beautiful table with your prettiest china and silver. A tiered cake stand laden with decorated cupcakes, petit fours and whatever else you fancy makes an inviting centrepiece.
Bring out your cake knives and servers, cake forks and tongs. And don’t forget the colour coordinated napkins and fresh flowers! (Good quality paper napkins are quite acceptable – these are readily available in gift shops and department stores and come in every imaginable design to complement any theme!).
Edibles! Ideally I would present a minimum of five choices – 2 savoury and 3 sweet – but of course you can spoil your guests with a larger selection if you feel so inclined, including a spectacular gateau or torte as a piece de resistance! If you don’t have time to prepare all of the food yourself you can source most things from a good patisserie – particularly those oh-so-pretty petit fours! Remember – choose dainty treats – large pastries can be a challenge to consume delicately. That just leaves the sandwiches for you to organise!
A choice of teas is desirable – two will do (one robust and one delicate and fragrant) – otherwise it can become too complicated if you are personally serving your guests. Rose Congou, Lady Grey, Darjeeling and Ceylon Orange Pekoe are some readily available types you might like to try. I suggest you look online to explore the extensive range of wonderful loose teas available – this will give you access to exotic varieties and blends that you might not find locally. Also, be aware that some of the beautifully flavoured fragrant teas are better taken without milk to fully appreciate their complexities. And yes – do provide coffee for those who prefer it.
In Sydney, if the weather is pleasant, we are just as likely to take tea on the terrace – lovely garden and water views which everyone seems to enjoy.
In London I am more inclined to invite friends out to afternoon tea – there are so many lovely venues to choose from! I recommend the “Palm Court” at the 5 star Langham Hotel in Regent Street. Enjoy seriously gorgeous food in an atmosphere of refined elegance. There are four seating times for Afternoon Tea, starting from 2p.m. High Tea is served from 5pm to 6.30pm and shortly after is “Champagne Hour”.
A very imposing Victorian building, the hotel has undergone an extensive five year refurbishment at a cost of 80 million pounds, reviving the sophistication and grandeur for which it has been famed since opening in 1865. The Langham won the prestigious Tea Guild’s award for “Top London Afternoon Tea” in 2010.
Tea at The Ritz is, of course, an institution – the surroundings are extravagantly luxurious (here too the setting is a magnificent “Palm Court”) and the afternoon teas are very good.
Apsleys at The Lanesborough Hotel, Hyde Park Corneris another favourite–stunning décor with its magnificent glass roof, super-stylish lighting, brilliant mural and furnishings – this is a more contemporary setting – sleek and sexy, with piano enhancing the seductive ambiance. I love “The Belgravia Tea” – a decadent indulgence of sandwiches, cakes and pastries as well as strawberries and cream and champagne! The tea varieties are deliciously exotic – wonderful range of black, green, white and yellow, as well as herbal infusions and iced teas. As with the aforementioned hotels, a Tea Sommelier is on hand to help with your selection.
Be aware that bookings are best made well in advance – these are very popular venues.
NOTE: There is a huge selection of tiered cake stands and cupcake “trees” available – try department stores, kitchenware shops and catering industry suppliers. They are also available on-line and range from acrylic and china through to stainless steel and silver.
You might like to try this simple and delicious sandwich recipe!
CHICKEN AND ALMOND SANDWICHES
1 BBQ chicken, shredded coarsely – discarding skin and bone.
4 celery sticks – finely chopped
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp lemon juice
½ cup (65g) toasted slivered almonds (you may prefer to loosely chop these)
1/3 cup chopped fresh tarragon
1 cup quality mayonnaise (I always use whole egg mayo)
1 loaf sliced sandwich bread – white or wholemeal
Salt and pepper
In a large bowl combine mayonnaise, mustard, lemon juice and tarragon then add chicken, celery and almonds, mixing gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Lay out half the bread slices on a clean work surface and spread evenly with the chicken mixture. Top with remaining bread slices and then, with a serrated knife, carefully trim off the crusts. Cut each sandwich lengthways into thirds or diagonally into quarters. Arrange on sandwich plate, garnished with a sprig or two of tarragon.
This simple dessert is ideal when you have to pull a meal together at short notice – it is decadently delicious, looks lovely and can be prepared hours ahead! Strawberries Victoria is ideal for a luncheon dessert or a beautifully flavoured, but not-too-heavy finale to a multi-course dinner. When you have devoured the liquor-drenched strawberries you are left with a divine syrup of cream and juices at the bottom of your goblet – a cocktail in itself!
Important! You must use fresh, perfect strawberries – small sweet varieties are best. If some are on the larger side, halve them top-to-bottom.
Secondly – good, pulpy passionfruit are not always available, in which case I happily substitute tinned passionfruit in syrup.
Finally – this dessert is more spectacular served in wide-mouthed goblets or cocktail glasses – large martini glasses are ideal. For formal occasions, I love to present Strawberries Victoria in my gorgeous Oscar de la Renta gold-rimmed crystal goblets – a bit OTT, but very pretty – especially (considering the colours) during the festive season! I provide dainty dessert spoons for extra effect.
2 punnets small strawberries
4 level tblspns sugar
2 tblspns orange liqueur (Cointreau)
2 large passionfruit
juice 1 orange
Wash and hull strawberries then place in a bowl. Add sugar, liqueur, passionfruit pulp and orange juice. Combine gently and cover the bowl. Refrigerate for several hours, allowing the flavours to mingle.
Spoon into serving dishes. Serve cold, crowned with a generous dollop of softly-whipped cream. Serves six.
GABRIELLA’S FESTIVE FRUIT SLICE
My talented chef – the lovely Gaby, introduced me to this marvellous little recipe some years ago and it has become a Christmas favourite in our house. We make multiple batches and it fast disappears with all our festive entertaining (and the little gift offerings we make up for special friends). It keeps for days and with its glaced fruit and almonds, looks very pretty on a colourful plate wrapped in clear cellophane and tied with a bright Christmas bow or bauble. It stores well in a sealed container in the refrigerator and cuts beautifully into squares or small bars – I actually prefer to serve it in place of the traditional Christmas cake. Enjoy!
1½ cups plain (all purpose) flour
125g (4oz) butter
30g (1oz) butter
1 tablespoon golden syrup
¼ cup self-raising flour
2 tablespoons brown sugar
90g (3oz) dried apricots
90g (3oz) glace cherries (red and green is pretty)
90g (3oz) sultanas
90g (3oz) slivered almonds
¼ cup brandy
Combine the brown sugar and sifted flour in a bowl and rub in the butter. Press the mixture firmly into a greased and lined lamington (sponge) tin (16cm x 26cm base – approx 6½ x 10½ inch). Distribute the fruit topping evenly over the base.
Bake for 30 minutes in a moderate oven. (The almonds should be just lightly browned). Cool the slice in the tin and cut when cold.
Topping: Beat together brown sugar, butter, golden syrup, sifted flour and the brandy. Add the chopped dried apricots and halved cherries and stir in the slivered almonds and sultanas.