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Almond tart with strawberries

I can’t really keep it a secret any longer. If you visit here often you’re going to notice sooner or later anyway, so I’d better come clean. For the last three months I have been living in a house with views that take my breath away daily. With gardens so pretty and scent heavy, I feel like I’m in a fairytale when I walk through them. I’ve fallen asleep to the reassuring sound of breaking waves and woken to magnificent patchwork orange and magenta skies. So this almond tart with strawberries was perfect for a Sunday lunch with friends in such a special place.

You might recall that back in April a tree fell on our house, and as a result we relocated that same night to Ma and Pa’s. Well a very generous friend offered us their home for the months of August, September and October. And so this is where my photos have been taken lately. In the beautiful kitchen of a Palm Beach house with panoramic views of the ocean. Believe me that I am not exaggerating when I say that sometimes I look up from the dishes to catch a glimpse of a whale breaching. That at night I can see Barrenjoey lighthouse intermittently twinkle in the distance. That I am extremely lucky and grateful for the opportunity to have stayed in such a beautiful location.

I think that Thea has enjoyed her stay too. We go the beach daily, sometimes twice, making the most of our temporary seaside location. I put her porridge in a little container, grab a coffee and we go, with obligatory bucket and spade in tow, to have our breakfast on the sand. I don’t know if I would do this if it was our full-time home. There is definitely something to be said for being placed in situations that not only force you to realise how fortunate you are, but also to make the most of your time.

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The spotted gum tree that crashed through our roof has also made realise that our house overlooking the sparkling Pittwater, a five-minute walk to Clareville beach, was a great home. I’m not sure that we fully appreciated that. We were so focused on renovating it and making in to the thing that we wanted it to be, that we never stopped to fully acknowledge how good it was: All those evenings spend sharing food with friends and family on the deck, this one and this one, oh and this one, especially stand out, as well as the dinner parties inside by the fire like this one.

When we do move back to our home (seemingly still light years away as our insurance hasn’t even been settled yet) I’m planning on throwing the biggest dinner party ever. I intend to celebrate where we live. With lots of delicious food. Delicious wine. Flowers. Music. And possibly even bite size versions of this almond tart with strawberries. It really is that good and definitely fitting for a special occasion. Even Thea thinks so.


Almond tart with strawberries

Adapted from a recipe in The River Cafe Cookbook 2

For the pastry

  • 225g plain flour
  • 75g self raising flour
  • 55g icing sugar
  • 100g butter, cold, cut into cubes
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tbsp cold water

For the almond tart filling

  • 265g soft butter
  • 265g caster sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 265g almond meal

To serve

  • 250g strawberries, hulled and halved
  • icing sugar
  • creme fraiche

To make the almond tart pastry, pulse the butter, two flours and icing sugar in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the yolk and pulse until mixed in and then with the motor running add the cold water in a steady stream until the pastry comes together. Remove from the processor, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 20 minutes before rolling out (with extra flour) and lining a 28cm diameter, 3.5cm deep loose bottomed fluted tart tin. Pop the lined tin in the fridge for another 20 minutes or so and then bake it in a 180 C oven.

**A note on baking the tart shell. Use baking beans. Seriously. I don’t know why I waited so long to become the owner of these little ceramic balls that have changed the appearance of my pastry shells for the better. I used to bake my tart shells with nothing and the sides would always shrink and the bottom bubble up. Then I got a little less lazy and started using dried kidney beans to keep the base of the tart shell flat. But after a while they began to smell. And just weren’t all that pretty. So one day, when in a kitchen shop looking for some platters, I came across Tala baking beans and my tart shells have been beautifully golden and even specimens ever since.**

For the almond tart filling, using a hand-held or stand mixer, beat the sugar and butter together. When the mixture is pale and fluffy, add the eggs one at a time, followed by the almond meal. Spoon the mix into the baked tart shell and bake for around 40-50 minutes until the filling is set. Don’t be tempted to overfill the shell as the mixture does puff up and will spill over the edge resulting in a messy end result.

Once the almond tart is cooled, decorate with strawberries, lots of icing sugar and enjoy with spoonfuls of creme fraiche.

Like this dessert recipe? Then you might enjoy my two tiered Pavlova

 

The best roast lamb ever.

I have been wanting to share this recipe with you for a while. Well, it’s more of a technique really. A way to cook the best roast lamb ever. It requires no effort. None. Apart from actually going to your butcher and buying a leg of lamb or three, getting a roasting tray and some foil ready and turning on the oven. That’s it. And the results are worthy of any dinner table. Tender, moist, flavoursome lamb that falls away from the bone with the touch of a feather. The thing that makes this lamb so great, apart from the ease with which it’s cooked, is the time that it gives you once it is done. It will happily sit on the kitchen bench wrapped in foil and a beach towel for hours. YES really, while you, well, get ready for the party!

The thing about once having been a cafe owner is that you get to repeat tasks over and over again, and you become quite skilled at certain recipes. By making mistakes and learning from them, you get even better too and realise what works and what certainly does not. So having cooked lamb like this to fill wraps along with tabbouleh and minted yoghurt many, many times, the process has become second nature, but the results are no less memorable.

I think the whole process of cooking lamb for lengthy periods of time first started after reading Paula Wolfert’s recipe for Seven Hour Garlic Crowned Lamb in her wonderful book The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. Again I read Alice Waters‘ thorough explanation of slow cooking shoulder joints in her book The Art of Simple Food and somehow combined the two accounts to create a method where I could put lamb in the oven just before I went to bed and then take it out first thing in the morning ready to take to the cafe with me to satisfy lunch time customers. The technique is well tested.

Preparing lamb in this way has also become a favourite dish with some of my regular chef by the sea catering clients. Perhaps because even though the meat in itself is a spectacular but understated main, it’s the perfect partner to such a wide array of sides. Complemented by smoky baba ganoush or piquant chimichurri, at home with roast potatoes or herby quinoa, side by side with shredded kale, barbecued corn or roast pumpkin, on a plate for lunch and in a roll for dinner. It’s a perfect entertaining staple. And I hope that it serves you well.





The best roast lamb ever

For this recipe, which is more anecdotal than a precise list of steps, you will need three things.

  1. A whole leg or shoulder of lamb, bone in.
  2. A deep baking tray
  3. Aluminium foil

Preheat your oven to it’s hottest setting, so somewhere around 250 C. My oven is like a furnace, which for some things is actually fantastic, like caramelising the outside of a joint of meat before leaving it to braise in a few inches of water for the day or overnight.

While the oven is preheating, place the meat in the baking tray and when the oven’s little light goes out to indicate the right temperature has been reached, pop your joint of meat in for 20 minutes.

When 20 minutes has elapsed, remove the meat from the oven and turn the temperature down to about 100 C. The first time you do this you may need to use an oven thermometer to calibrate the point where your oven cooks at the is temperature, because for me this heat is not actually any temperature indicated on my oven’s dial, but rather marked with a Sharpie from having worked it out many times before.

Before putting your meat back into the oven, fill the baking tray with about two inches of water and cover it tightly with foil. Now put it back into the oven and you can leave the lamb to cook anywhere from six to 12 hours.

Before serving the lamb, and I believe this detail to be just as important as the initial 20 minute heat blast, remove it from the oven and its baking tray, place it on a deep platter, wrap it in foil and cover it with a towel. I have even placed the lamb in a suitable plastic container and popped it in an esky to rest and keep warm. It will sit quite happily for a few hours and still be piping hot, but succulently moist when you come to serve it.

And to serve, simply use two forks or a pair of tongs and help yourself.

Enjoy x

My top pavlova making tips.

Today was a perfect day. It began with sipping my morning coffee while browsing though the Sunday paper, the whole time wresteling with Thea for a portion of my Birthday almond croissant. Of course she won, stuffing fistfuls of the nutty, flaky pastry into her mouth with complete abandon and glee.

The breakfast battle over, I donned my kitchen apron and ran through my prep list for lunch. Moreton bay bugs with garlic and parsley butter, mango and coriander marinated prawns, chargrilled squid and cannellini bean salad, homemade sourdough crumbs and herb topped mussels and buffalo mozzarella and tomato salad. Oh and a huge, billowy, two tiered pavlova, with more cream than necessary and fresh summer berries.

 

Being a celebratory day, Pimm’s was the aperitif of choice, which after quaffing, we all sat down to eat. Since we were all family, there was no ceremonious behaviour around the table and platters of seafood were passed up and down, back and forth, as everyone dug in and filled their plates. Even Thea, seated at at the head of the table in her high chair, sat still for a portion of the meal, munching on this and that, sometimes sneakily feeding what she didn’t like to the dog. (It always makes me chuckle how much she delights in doing this, as I’m sure must he!)






The main course finished, it was time for dessert. A Cinderella skirt size pavlova, decked out in whipped cream, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries was served. It was wonderful to actually sit down and be able to savour one of my own meringues. I have cooked so many this summer, and thankfully, the practice has paid off. It was delicious. And devoured. No one complained about the larger than average portion sizes of crunchy, creamy, light, soft, sweet and chewy final course and yes please to seconds. A truly perfect way to finish a long birthday lunch.



Pavlova

The following is enough to make a beautiful two tiered pavlova. Adjust accordingly.

  • 8 egg whites (320ml)
  • 450g caster sugar
  • 2 tsp white vinegar
  • 4 tsp cornflour

Pre heat the oven to 200C.

Start by separating eight eggs. It’s a really good idea to measure the egg whites out exactly. One egg white is approximately 40ml. When you have separated the amount needed, pour into the bowl of a free standing mixer and begin to whisk with a whisk attachment. Start with a slow speed for a few minutes and then increase to high.

Whisk the whites until they are stiff, in that they will hold a soft peak, then begin to add the sugar, little by little.

When all the sugar is incorporated, stop the mixer. The mixture should be beautifully glossy. Add the vinegar and sift in the cornflour and gently fold in with 10 slow turns of the whisk.

Now, with haste, pile the mixture within the circle, or circles, that you have drawn on greaseproof paper lining a baking tray, or trays. Put the tray(s) into the preheated oven and immediately turn down the oven to 100C.

Cook for about 1 hour and then turn the oven off, prop the oven door ajar and leave the pavlova to cool.

Pavlova making top tips

*Do make sure that the bowl and whisk that you will be whisking the egg whites with are free from grease
*Do make sure your eggs are fresh and at room temperature. If you do get any yolk in your whites as you are separating them, use half and empty egg shell to retrieve it. The shell attracts the yolk. Clever! Same goes for any bits of shell.
*Start by whisking the whites slowly, then increase the speed
*When the whites are stiff, slowly add the sugar in increments over 10 minutes, whisking constantly
*In between whisking in the sugar, line a tray with baking paper and trace a circle (or several circles) on it so you know where to pile the meringue mix
*When you have added all the sugar, stop whisking, add the vinegar and corn flour and then whisk in slowly with about 10 turns of the whisk. As soon as you have done this, speed is of the essence.
*Pile the meringue onto the prepared baking sheet and pop into an oven preheated to 200 degrees. As soon as you close the door, turn the temperature down to 100 degrees. Cook for about one hour until the outside is firm.
*Leave the pavlova to cool in the oven (overnight) by turning the oven off and propping the door ajar with an oven mitt or something similar
*Enjoy. With whatever fruit is in season and more cream then necessary.

A versatile beef and red wine stew.

A stew for a dinner party. Could I make it work. Yes. I had been reading the book Secret Suppers on underground restaurants, and inspired by the tales within it, decided to hold a ‘secret’ dinner party. The concept was that I would invite three couples to dinner and then two of those couples would each invite a couple, making 12 guests. It meant that not only would the guests be unfamiliar with one another, but so would we and this added a heightened sense of pressure for me to come up with a dish that would be enjoyed by all. Instinctively I chose a beef and red wine stew recipe, one I have made many times before, that I know is easy, but enjoyed by everyone. I also had an idea up my sleeve on how to present it for dramatic effect, to elevate the dish from easy week night meal to dinner fit to entertain a crowd.

The night of the dinner, the table was laid, the fire lit (Thea was in bed!) and as soon as I heard footsteps outside our front door, I hastily pushed granny smiths through a juicer. The gloriously green juice was added to shots of vodka and apple schnapps, that had already been decanted into martini glasses and the cocktails were handed out to help break the ice. After several requests for a second martini had been satisfied and introductions were over, it was time to sit down and eat. The entree was an entirely simple selection of plump and juicy, freshly shucked Tathra oysters (seriously the BEST oysters I have ever tasted) and marinated Meredith chèvre. The hands on starter created a mellow and easy atmosphere, as people passed and shared the dishes.

Next came the main event. The beef and red wine stew. A very straightforward recipe to follow, made special simply by slowly cooking the meat over a low heat until it’s truly a melt in your mouth dish. And to make it extra special and fit for the occasion, I was able to recreate an idea that I had seen on the kitchen, and present it on a two metre long plank. Secured in place by a moat of buttery mashed potatoes and garnished with mushrooms and green beans, it was placed in the middle of the table for everyone to admire.  The plank caused exactly the effect I had hoped and everyone loved both the beef and red wine stew and the way it was served. Plates were repeatedly filled and conversation flowed as the two metre platter grew empty.

The evening was punctuated by a large creme caramel, inspired by one similar that I had eaten at Kitchen by Mike. The custard was silky smooth and generously spiked with millions of vanilla dots. It swam in bitter caramel, the making of which is always an adrenaline fuelled task, waiting until the last minute to remove the sugar from the heat, before it turns from a deep, rich colour with an astringent sweetness, to just plain burnt. A little less wobbly than I would have liked, as I only removed the dessert from the oven when I was sure it would turn out in a cohesive shape, no one seemed to mind. Fingers were dipped into the caramel and plates were scraped clean. The evening was a huge success and as I went to bed, I was already wondering to myself, what might be on the next secret dinner menu…

Beef and red wine stew

This is an amazingly versatile recipe that could be used as a stew with polenta or a pie filling topped with puff pastry, to go with thick pasta ribbons and lots of parmesan, to make nachos with the addition of kidney beans and chilli or to fill a baked potato with a dollop of sour cream and a snip or chives. Double or even triple the quantities outlined here and freeze into portions for an assortment of dinner options

  • 1kg shin beef cut into large 5cm cubes
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 sticks celery, chopped
  • 2 carrots, chopped
  • good sprig of fresh thyme
  • couple of sticks of fresh rosemary
  • few fresh bay leaves
  • 2 x 400g tins tomatoes
  • 2 tbs tomato puree
  • 1 bottle red wine
  • 500ml beef stock
  • couple of star anise
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Black pepper, to taste
  • Sea salt, to taste

Add the onion, celery and carrot to a large pot. Cover with the lid and sweat over a very low heat for about 20 minutes. Stir occasionally to make sure that the mixture isn’t burning.

When the veggies are very soft and translucent, add the beef, increase the heat and cook until the beef has changed colour, from raw red to light brown. At this point, add the herbs, tomatoes and puree, wine and stock, cinnamon, salt and pepper.

Bring the liquid up to a temperature where it bubbles slightly, then turn it right down and let the beef simmer until it is meltingly tender and the sauce reduced and thick, anywhere from two to six hours.

The meat should have a stringy, fall apart quality and the sauce should be rich and flavoursome.  This dish is even better made a few days in advance, as I did, and then reheated. It will sit happily in a pot over a very low heat on the stove until you are ready to serve it.

Enjoy this recipe? Then you might like to make pavlova for dessert with these top tips to help.