Beautiful Thai canapés

Let me begin by telling you about the thing that I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. Ocean swimming. Dropping into the sea and swimming in the cool mineral rich water as part of my daily routine. What could be better. An activity to nourish the soul and clear the mind, at the same time of course as keeping everything trim, muscles toned surrounded by the cold.  Well the past few weeks I have been lucky enough to do just this with a lovely lady that I met at the beach (there was no way I was going to do this activity alone). And that’s where these beautiful Thai canapés come in.

Sam is the lovely and very interesting lady mentioned above. Bobbing in her blue swimming cap, she patiently waits for me as I catch up to her in the sea. With no pushing and gliding at either end like in a pool and a slight sense of vertigo as my body rolls in the swell, I’m still acclimatising to open water swimming. We jump in to the sea at the end of Palm Beach ocean pool and swim parallel with the shore for 500m or so and then back again.

Let me be clear at this point. I find this activity extremely scary. Rips, swell, breaking waves, deep water. No problem. But not being able to see what’s beneath me. The thing that nightmares are made of. Conquering your fears though is kind of addictive, and every time I get out of the water after another swim, I want to get straight back in. Plus I guess being scared makes a morning swim just that little bit more exhilarating.

Sam is also a mum, and a runner, and she’s done ski seasons. I feel at home in her company. After sharing a few drinks with her and her husband’s one Sunday afternoon, Mark and I wanted to continue the conversation, so the following weekend we invited them to dinner. Cue the beautiful Thai canapés. Sweet, salty and nutty. The perfect flavour combination to enjoy with a few pre dinner drinks.

It’s funny. I’ve owned David Thompson‘s Thai compendium for years, and enjoyed glancing at its fuchsia spine on my bookshelf, but I’ve never cooked anything from it. I’m a little nervous of Asian recipes, slightly fazed by their long ingredient lists and confused about what to substitute for items that aren’t readily available. But this recipe. I felt confident about it. And now I’ve made it once, I want to make it again. A bit like diving in to the ocean I suppose. Scary at first, but definitely something to repeat.

Beautiful Thai canapés – Ma Hor – Galloping horses

Minced chicken, pork and prawn with pineapple

From David Thompson’s book Thai Food

  • 100g prawn meat, finely chopped
  • 100g chicken mince
  • 100g pork mince
  • 1 cup palm sugar, grated
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 1/2 cup fried garlic
  • 1/2 cup fried shallots
  • 4 tbsp ground toasted peanuts (unsalted)

Coriander and garlic paste

  • 4 coriander roots
  • 5 garlic cloves
  • 15 white peppercorns
  • pinch salt

Fry the prawn mince with a pinch of salt in the oil of your choice. When cooked, transfer to a bowl to cool and repeat with the chicken and pork mince.

Next make the coriander and garlic paste by pounding all the ingredients together with a pestle and mortar.

Now fry the paste in a little oil and when fragrant add the palm sugar and fish sauce and then simmer for a few minutes until the mixture is thick and syrupy.

To the syrupy mixture add the prawn, chicken and pork mince and half each of the fried garlic, shallots and peanuts. Cook for a few minutes than remove from the heat and add the remaining garlic, shallots and peanuts. Taste the mixture. It should be sweet, salty and nutty. Adjust accordingly

Leave the mix to cool. It will firm up considerably. While it’s cooling cut the pineapple into bite size slices.

Moments before you are ready to eat the canapés, top the pineapple pieces with the punchy topping and enjoy.

Love canapés? Then you might like this recipe for gougers-bite size balls of cheesy choux pastry.

A very easy garlic prawn entree

Prawns plus garlic. The perfect combination. Add some fresh bread and you have a very easy garlic prawn entrée. The best thing about this starter is that it’s served ‘en papillote‘ or in the bag, which means that there’s a little bit of theatre when you bring the garlicky crustaceans to the table. Guests have to tear open their own individual parcels, releasing the wonderful cooking aromas, at the same time as revealing the pink, parsley flecked prawns inside.

Home made garlic butter is the best. A few cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh herbs, a grating of lemon zest and some soft butter, press the button and it’s done. Use it to smother over thickly sliced bread before toasting under the grill to make garlic bread. Stuff chicken breasts with it for delicious homemade chicken Kiev. Fry some sliced mushrooms in it and serve them on triangles of brioche. But make lots and freeze it so that you always have some on hand.

I think that a hankering for prawns is a sign that the weather is getting warmer. The days longer.  The sun lingering in the sky. Prawns are the kind of food that I like to take time to eat, whether around a table with friends or simply with a significant other and a bottle of wine. Leisurely peeling away the crisp shells and dipping the pink meat into piquant seafood sauce, in an al fresco setting. When buying prawns, look for ones with smooth black eyes, not ones with eyes that look like currants. This is a sign that they are fresh, or so I was told by a lady who sold me some of the sweetest, freshest prawns that I’ve ever eaten.

A very easy garlic prawn entrée

For 6.

  • 1-1.5kg prawns (which should be around 30-45 prawns depending on their size and how many you want to serve to each of your guests)
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 250g soft butter
  • 1 bunch parsley, leaves only
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • pinch of salt
  • glass of white wine

Begin by making the garlic butter. Simply put the garlic, butter, parsley, zest and salt in a processor and whizz until everything is well combined.

Prepare the prawns by removing their heads and shells (you can keep these to make prawn stock) and then the vein that runs down their backs.

Tear off six pieces of baking paper about 40cm in length. Fold these pieces in half, just so you have an indication of where to put the prawns. Place 5-7 prawns per person on one half of each piece of baking paper and top with a generous amount of butter.

Now fold the baking paper over the prawns using the halfway line that you made as a guide and then starting from one end, seal the baking paper all the way around so that you have a parcel.

At this point, the parcels can be stored in the fridge until that are needed.

When you are ready to cook the prawns, unseal the parcels enough to be able to add about 2 tablespoons of white wine to each one. (Don’t try and do this ahead of time as the wine will leak out. I know. I tried and failed.) Reseal the bags really well, as the wine inside the bags will steam and cook the prawns. If there are any gaps, then the steam will escape.

Place the parcels on a baking tray and bake for 15 minutes at 180C.

Serve the prawns immediately in their little bags with fresh bread and a green salad. A very easy garlic prawn entrée.

You want to know what to do with the prawns heads and shells? Thai red curry with prawn stock and salmon.

Oven baked chicken wings

I made an awesome discovery last weekend. Blue cheese dipping sauce. It’s delicious. Lick the bowl clean kind of delicious. So why have I never tried it before, especially since it’s extremely quick and simple to put together. The reason that I made it in the first place is because I cooked Mark one of his favourite, and one of my take it or leave it, things. Chicken wings. Oven baked chicken wings with honey and smoked paprika.

The occasion was the football final. Now I’m not into NRL, but I do like a reason to cook. And chicken wings seem to go hand in hand with the manly act of watching sport on TV. So once I decided on the wings, I thought I’d give the inextricably linked blue cheese dipping sauce a whirl. Now I’m a convert to both. A bright, brash, loud and utterly delicious finger licking combination.

Speaking of delicious. Every kitchen should have a tin of smoked paprika. A little of this Spanish spice made from smoked pimiento peppers goes a long way. It makes roast chicken taste amazing. Just whizz a teaspoon or two in the food processor with some soft butter, then push the mixture under the chicken’s skin before roasting it. It makes a great marinade too. Add a tablespoon to a few crushed cloves of garlic, some lemon zest and juice, couple of sprigs of chopped fresh oregano and a drizzle of oil and let cubes of chicken bathe in the marinade before threading them onto skewers and cooking them on the barbecue.

Along with a few other ingredients, smoked paprika makes a fantastic rub for salmon, like for salmon tacos and Cajun salmon. And blended with mayonnaise and lime juice, it brings grilled corn on the cob to life. And let’s not forget these sticky, smoky chicken wings. If you want to make them extra sticky, just drizzle with some extra honey for the final 10 minutes of cooking.

Oven baked chicken wings

Original recipe by Elle Vernon. For 2.

About 16 chicken wings

  • 2 tbs oil
  • 1 tbs smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 tbs honey
  • 2 tbs lemon juice
  • generous pinch of salt
  • generous grinding of black pepper

Simply mix all the ingredients together to make a sauce and smother the chicken wings in it. You can leave at this point to marinate for a few hours or bake straight away.

To bake, spread the wings out on a wire rack above a baking tray and bake for 40-50 minutes at 190C until the wings are cooked and slightly charred. Dip into blue cheese dipping sauce and eat.

Blue cheese dipping sauce

  • 1/2 cup creme fraiche
  • 1/4  cup mayonnaise
  • 1 clove garlic
  • juice of a lemon
  • 1/4 cup blue cheese (I used gorgonzola dolce)
  • salt to taste, may not be needed
  • black pepper

Simply whizz all the ingredients together in a food processor. A little milk can be added to thin thin the sauce if desired.

Making homemade crinkle cut chips

I failed. I missed a week. My intention at the start of the year was to write one blog post a week. Which sounds easy right. But with a small person in your life and the responsibility of a job, and the excitement of finishing your first marathon, yeah I did, but more on that later, sometimes despite the best of intentions, plans get overlooked. I mean I’ve done pretty well so far, even posting the week a tree fell on my house. But this week, I just didn’t. It’s like I used up all my motivation completing those 42 kilometres and didn’t have any left to write. I simply wanted to eat protein after all my carb loading, and take the pressure off myself a little bit. Something I did do though was dabble in the kitchen with a crinkle cutter to make homemade crinkle cut chips, to go with aforementioned protein.

For some reason I believed that crinkle cutters only existed in factories that prepared vegetables for the frozen food isle in the supermarket, which is rather strange since I have most kitchen gadgets under the sun. So when we moved in to Ma and Pa’s house back in April, I was pretty darn excited to find Ma’s crinkle cutter in the kitchen drawer. Any crinkle cut vegetable is fun. I suppose it’s not normal, not the way nature intended, but a bit  playful. Normally I would make little duck fat roast potatoes to go with steak, but this week it was all about the homemade crinkle cut chips. Let me be clear here. I made oven baked crinkle cut chips, not the fried variety. If you’re interested in how to make them, Gourmet Girlfriend has a lovely post on hot chips. It’s not that I’m against deep frying, there is definitely a place for it, but I seem have more success with getting chips crispy in the oven. And since there is always so much washing up in my kitchen from catering, I like to choose the easy wash option when it comes to my own dinner.

Something else that I failed to do this week was go for a run. Due to a bruised toe, I couldn’t walk, let alone run. And that felt strange after months of diligent training, to not have to worry about maintaing my run fitness. But I missed it. I felt restless. Part of my routine was lacking. Which allows me to now answer something that I had wondered in my last post before I ran my first marathon. Would I want to do it again? Hell yes. My competitive streak says, you can do it faster next time. You can train a bit harder. You can get new trainers and a fancy watch and really go for it. Those last 10 kilometres were hell, but it’ll be better second time around.

Sydney marathon was a lot of fun. Being able to run over the Harbour Bridge with choppers flying overhead was exhilarating and the first five kilometres flew by. I drank water at every drinks station, half in my mouth half over myself as I kept moving and after all the carbohydrates that I had consumed in the week leading up to the event, my body felt strong. Around the Botanic Gardens, through Kings Cross where late night revellers who hadn’t yet been to bed watched on, round the SCG and Centennial Park, back towards the city. Entering into 30 kilometre territory is where my body started to demand that I stop, or at the very least walk for a bit, but I kept going. Through The Rocks, around Pyrmont, round Circular Quay and towards the finish at the Opera House. I must’ve had a lot more gas left in my tank than I gave myself credit for, because I sprinted the last two kilometres. And then I crossed the line. That strange emotion of elation mixed with tears of relief flooded my heart and I was so happy to embrace my family who were waiting for me. I had done it. And I was still standing.

Thats the thing. Even if you miss a session, you have to continue on, rather than see the miss as a sign of failure and give up. So without further ado, my recipe for oven baked homemade crinkle cuts chips is below, and I’m off for a run.

Homemade crinkle cut chips

  • 500g floury potatoes, such as Sebago (look here for a great guide to the humble spud as well as other floury potato alternatives)
  • 2-4 tbsp neutral flavoured oil like vegetable or sunflower

Begin by peeling the potatoes. Sometimes I don’t peel roast potatoes because I like the texture of the skin and the nutrients that it provides, but for homemade crinkle cut chips, I think they need to be completely naked. No bits of skin anywhere.

Now, using the crinkle cutter, or a knife, cut the potatoes into thick batons. I like to cut the base off the potato first so that I can then use the flat surface that I have created as a stable base to stand the potato on while I cut the remainder of it up. This is a great tip when cutting up all veggies, it makes life easier and avoids the knife slipping into your fingers.

Ok, so chips cut. Next par boil them until they are soft enough that you can insert a knife into them with little resistance, but not so much that they are starting to fall apart. To do this, place the chips in a pot, cover them with cold water (this helps to remove the starch) and bring to the boil. Boil for about 10 minutes but maybe 15 depending on the potatoes.

Now gently, so as not to break the chips, drain them. At this point, as in so many of my recipes, you can spread the chips over a tray and leave them in the fridge to dry out, anywhere from a few hours to overnight.

To the cooking part. Preheat the oven to 200C. Place a large tray with about 2-3 tablespoons of oil on into the oven to heat. This step allows the chips to start cooking as soon as they hit the tray, rather than steam as they heat from cold. It ensures, or at least I believe it does, a crispy chip. So when the oil is hot, about 5 minutes, tip the chips onto the tray and they should begin to sizzle immediately.

Make sure that the chips are in one even layer. If you need to use two trays to achieve this, then do. Again, it avoids the chips steaming and helps them cook evenly.

Bake the chips for about 40 minutes to an hour. I don’t meant to be vague, but the cooking time does depend on your oven. Basically you are looking for crisp, golden, crinkly batons. Do toss the chips occasionally with the appropriate weapon, to make sure that they cook evenly. And that’s it. Sprinkle your homemade crinkle cut chips with salt, dip in the sauce of your choice and enjoy.

This steak would go deliciously well with these chips.