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.

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.

Devils on horseback with mulled wine

What you might think of as a canapé restricted to the seventies and something your mum used to make for cocktail parties, is in fact a match made in heaven for mulled wine. Sticky, sweet and salty, bacon wrapped prunes, nibbled in between sips of warm, syrupy, spiced red wine, is actually darn good. And as Christmas in July is fast approaching, devils on horseback might just be the perfect little morsels for your gathering, to accompany aforementioned hot wine or tipple of your choosing. So delicious in fact, you’ll wonder why you’ve never made them before.

The great thing that I have discovered about devils on horseback is that, aside from the traditional recipe, there are great many ways to personalise this hors d’oeuvre. Instead of prunes, the classic fruit of choice, dates or apricots can be used. The selected fruit can be steeped in a bath of tea, black, Earl Grey or otherwise or alcohol, like sherry, brandy or whisky, even alcohol spiked tea, before being stuffed with a variety fillings. Whole almonds for a little bit of crunch, mango chutney to give a gooey centre, or cheese for a salty punch. Prosciutto or pancetta will work just as well as bacon to wrap up the final fruity parcel.

Cold Christmases have been the norm for the better half of my life to date and I still can’t quite get used to celebrating Christmas in the sunshine here in Australia. I site this as the reason I get so excited about Christmas in July. A dinner party, mid way through the year, when the weather is cold and overeating in the company of friends is a very acceptable pastime. Roast root vegetables, caramelised and crisp, big joints of meat, theatrically carved at the table, ripe, oozy  white rind cheese, golden pastry, dried fruit, toasted nuts and warming mulled wine. Preceded by multiple nibbles.

This year I have an inkling that I’m going to prepare a smorgasbord of glistening devils on horseback to serve with drinks before the pseudo Christmas dinner. Like a box of chocolates without a little card to tell you what you’ve chosen, it will keep people guessing what selection they’ve made. Or I might just make some tonight to go with a glass of red. A late night, après supper treat, sweet and savoury, to snack on in front of the fire.

Devils on horseback

A somewhat classic recipe with the addition of one of my favourite blue vein cheese, Cambozola.

  • prunes, stones removed
  • streaky bacon
  • Cambozola cheese
  • toothpicks

Arrange the bacon side by side in a line. Take a small amount of Cambozola and stuff it into the cavity of a prune. Now lay the cheese filled prune at one end of a strip of bacon. Roll the bacon neatly around the sticky black fruit and secure with a toothpick. (I used half a rasher of bacon for each prune.) Repeat as many times as needed and there you have it. Devils on horseback.

Cook under a hot grill for 5 minutes each side and serve with mulled wine.

Mulled wine

The following is for 1 bottle of wine. Simply double or triple the quantites depending of how much you are making.

  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 1 cup apple juice
  • strips of zest from a lemon and mandarin-use a peeler
  • 6 cloves
  • 1/2 a nutmeg, grated
  • 1 stick cinnamon
  • 1 inch piece ginger, sliced
  • 1 small piece star anise
  • 4 cardamon pods

Very simply, put all the ingredients in a pot and heat very gently for at least 20 minutes. Do not boil the wine. Now, turn off the heat and leave the wine to infuse for an hour or so. Once again, gently reheat and serve in glasses. With devils on horseback.

Enjoy cheese and red wine? then you might like gougers, cheesy bite size balls of choux pastry

Three cheese quesadillas

I was craving cheese. Not just any cheese, but molten, runny, stringy cheese. In snack form, to be eaten with fingers and no need for a table. Being Friday, I knew exactly what I would make. Three cheese quesadillas. White corn tortillas, hot and crisp, glued together with melted cheese, spiked with pickled jalapeños. A lazy dinner requiring little effort or preplanning, that we could graze on throughout the evening while chatting about the week’s events.


The weekends seem to have been very busy lately, but Friday’s are still exciting, signalling a change of pace. Activities done on a Saturday and Sunday are usually carried out at in a much more leisurely manner and unrelated to Monday to Friday’s work. To mark the change in tempo, Friday dinners are fun. They involve less formality or forethought and in our house, a lot of the time, they are eaten with fingers around the kitchen bench. Sticky pork ribs, pancakes with crispy lamb and hoi sin sauce, garlic prawn pots with crusty bread, home made pizza and often, these three cheese quesadillas.


I’m not sure what it is about grated cheese, but I have always been one to steal little handfuls of this ingredient when it is sitting in a pile on a chopping board, prepared and ready for a recipe. It could be because it’s naughty. As I child I knew my mum needed all the cheese that she’d grated for a dish, but I couldn’t help sneaking some to stuff into my mouth while she wash’t looking. It could be textural, the way you can compress the individual strands together in your mouth. It could also be because you get the impression that you are being completely overindulgent, the air between the yellow strands tricking you, making you think you are eating more that you really are. Whatever the reason, grate lots of cheese for this dish. More that you think that you will reasonably need to sandwich together two corn tortillas. It will melt into a comforting, salty, savoury, moorish snack that you just won’t be able to resist.

Three cheese quesadillas

  • 3 types of cheese – your choice. I used mozzarella for it’s stringy characteristic when melted, cheddar cheese for it’s punchy flavour and feta for it’s saltiness and creamy quality when hot.
  • corn tortillas. They must be corn. Flour tortillas just don’t crisp in the same way and are more prone to burning.
  • pickled jalapeños, finely chopped
  • oil for frying
  • optional Mexican beer

1. Lay out several corn tortillas and spread each with a teaspoonful of pickled jalapeños.

2. Take a handful of the first cheese and evenly distribute it over the tortilla.

3. Now do the same with the second and third cheeses.

4. Place another tortilla on top the cheese laden base tortilla and you are ready to start frying.

5. Set a frying pan over a moderate heat and let it become nice and hot.

6. Pour a little oil into the pan and add the quesadilla. Fry until cheese starts to pour from the sides of the tortilla and the base is crisp and brown.

7 .Flip the tortilla with a spatula and cook until the other side is also browned, then tip onto a chopping board, cut into slices and enjoy.

Enjoy this recipe? You might also like this cheesy recipe for gougeres

Chicken and chorizo empanadas

Happy that I was organized for an upcoming  job, I was sitting comfortably on the lounge sipping peppermint tea after dinner. Tomorrow I would make the chicken and chorizo empanadas, part of the Mexican street food spread that I was preparing for a party at the weekend. But right now I was in front of a beautifully warm open fire browsing restaurants in Bali for our upcoming holiday. I could hear that outside, the powerful wind had amped up again and that rain was still lashing angrily at the windows. It was an aggressive storm that had caused mass flooding and uprooted trees on every single street over the last two days. From our deck, Thea and I had been watching arborists in fluorescent rain coats all day, brave the elements to remove a fallen gum tree that had ploughed straight through one of our neighbours homes. Nonchalantly believing that we were lucky to have escaped the same fate, I was about to be proved very wrong.

There was no loud crack to fore warn that a tree was about to fall. It just happened. All of a sudden the power went out and in the darkness the only sound that could be heard was crashing. Usually when something falls on our tin roof, it’s noisy and can make your heart pound, fallen debris sounding bigger and more damaging than it really it is. There was no doubt this time though. Whatever had fallen was huge and very destructive. The clattering noise was relentless, and Mark and I held each other bracing for impact from overhead.

It felt like as soon as it had started, the noise stopped. I jumped up, ever so slightly hysterical. THEA. My baby girl was in bed and if I hadn’t been hit by whatever had fallen, did that mean that she had? Mark pulled me close and told me to calm down. That she was fine. It was our chimney stack that had collapsed and that if I went in and got her in the state I was in, I would scare her. I took on board his wise words, breathed deeply and using the light on my phone went to her room. She was sitting up waiting for me. I packed a bag while Mark put out the fire, a hazard that had completely gone over my head as I stuffed nappies, toothbrushes and underwear into a bag. Our neighbours were yelling up at us. Were we ok? I yanked at the front door to let them know we were. It wouldn’t open. I went to the window and pulled back the curtain. All that I could see in front of me through broken glass was a mass of branches and leaves, fractured floorboards and crumpled sheets of roofing. Our whole deck had splintered away from the house.

When firemen arrived to check that our fire was out and to escort us around our home to collect any valuables and emergency items, I pleaded with them to save my Mexican beef stew. A strange last minute grab from a house just rendered unsafe by a falling tree, but that pot of food was not going to go to waste. Onions, carrots, capsicums, celery and garlic had been whizzed up in a food processor first thing that morning and then sweated slowly over a low heat. Tomatoes, bay leaves, cumin, coriander and chilli were added, along with a five kilo hunk of beef, and the pot had simmered undisturbed all day, only occasionally interrupted to be stirred. My neighbours kindly let me store the hefty stainless steel pot in their fridge, as I explained it was for a job at the weekend and despite a tree just having fallen on my house, I was not going to pull out of the work and let anyone down.


Safely installed at Ma and Pa’s a few days later, I resumed preparations for the party. Referring to my list, 100 chicken and chorizo empanadas needed to be made. Unfamiliar with how to go about setting up a production line in Ma’s kitchen, I started by investigating what was in all the cupboards and drawers. Ma looks after things with such care that the majority of her utensils and appliances are older than me. And I love that. Well looked after kitchen equipment with soul. Great grandma, who happened to be visiting at the same time we became homeless, was shocked with the number of pastry pockets that I had to make, but intrigued as to how I would actually go about the process. With Thea being blissfully entertained in the garden by Ma, I began the empanadas. In between sneaking glances through the window of Thea on the swing and chatting about TV detective series with G g Ma, the task was completed in no time. Somehow, despite the odds, I was back on track.




 Chicken and chorizo empanadas

Adapted from a recipe by Paul Hollywood

Ingredients

For the pastry

  • 150g unsalted butter
  • 300g plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten

Make the pastry first and allow it to rest in the fridge while you make the filling.

Whizz the butter and flour in a food processor until they resemble fine breadcrumbs.

Add the egg and salt and pulse until the mixture comes together. If it is still and little dry, add water drip by drip.

Tip the pastry out onto a piece of cling wrap, cover and put in the fridge for 30 minutes to rest before rolling out for the chicken and chorizo empanadas.

For the filling

  • 1 whole chicken
  • 1 onion
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 chorizo
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 50g rasins
  • salt and black pepper

Roast the chicken in the oven for approximately 1.5 hours until cooked. Remove from the oven and allow to cool enough so that you can handle it.

In the meantime, in a food processor, whizz up the onion, garlic and chorizo. Transfer the mixture to a wide pot and cook over a low heat until the onion is translucent and the chorizo is starting to release its red perfumed oil.

Add the raisins and cumin, salt and pepper, cook for a few more minutes to allow all the flavours to mingle and then remove the pot from the heat.

Now pull apart the roast chicken, finely shredding the meat and add it to the chorizo mixture. Save the chicken carcass to make stock.

To assemble the chicken and chorizo empanadas

On a floured surface, roll out the pastry to a thickness of about 3mm.

Using a round pastry cutter, cut circles in the pastry. In the top half of these circles,place teaspoonfuls of the chicken and chorizo filling.

Take another lightly beaten egg, and with a pastry brush, paint egg wash on the top half of the circle where the filing has been placed. Now fold over the empty half of the pastry circle and press the edges together. Seal using the prongs of a fork by pressing them into the pastry all the way around the open edges.

To bake, place the chicken and chorizo empanadas on a baking tray, brush the tops with more egg wash and place in an oven preheated to 180C for about 20 minutes.

Enjoy the chicken and chorizo empanadas while still hot from the oven, with a cold beer!