Last weekend we had friends to lunch. Now I know I’ve said I’m the No-Cook Cook, and as a general rule, I am. I would rather do something else. That doesn’t mean though that I won’t make an effort ~ I will, as long as it’s a quick and easy effort! Every time I think I might make something a little more special (which really means a little more complicated) I just cast my mind back to last winter. I had a week of madness where I decided to make proper pies ~ you know, the kind with two different pastries. Meat pies, apple pies … large ones, small ones … all very nice, but a nightmare ~ so fiddly and time-consuming! And whilst I was in the middle of crimping the pastry around the edges and popping on the egg wash, I suddenly thought, what am I doing? Am I mad? It’s like the time I decided to make crab-apple jam from our fruit-laden tree. The heavy branches were begging me to cook those luscious little apples! And it was delicious ~ I froze it and we had it over ice cream for two whole summers (it didn’t set like jam so we had lovely crab-apple sauce instead). But never again! Have you ever tried to core a couple of buckets of crab-apples … it’s painfully slow but has to be done ‘cause them little pips do not dissolve by themselves no matter what the recipe says!
Now back to our lunch! As I said, I’m happy to make a quick and easy effort, but having read my blog post about not cooking, I think our friends arrived with perhaps a touch of trepidation as to what they were going to get! They were after all bringing the wine, which by the way, was wonderful. But while I may not enjoy spending hours cooking on a daily basis anymore, I am happy to cook a beautiful meal for beautiful friends. Long gone though are the days when I want to impress anyone ~ what I put on the table these days has to taste and look good, but what’s most important of all, especially to me, is the heartfelt sharing of food with friends. It can make the simplest meal the most memorable and delicious.
So then, what to cook? Being winter, it’s still quite cool and as it was lunch it had to be warming and light. And as our friends love their food and wine I decided on four courses. He is a wine connoisseur currently writing a book on the subject, and they both love to cook, so I wanted to make my offering just a little special, and finally decided on French Onion Soup ~ delicious, Salmon ~ always good, Poached Pears ~ yum, and a Cheese Platter. And here are the recipes:
French Onion Soup with Cheesy Ciabatta Bread
1999 Meerea Park Alexander Munro Semillon which won 5 Gold Medals
It’s been years since I’ve made French Onion Soup, and it was truly delicious! Even though this took a bit of time, it was worth it and it was also very easy. I didn’t have to stand over it and was able to do lots of other things while it was cooking.
Ingredients for 4 People:
- 60g chopped butter
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 thinly sliced onions (about 1kg) ~ I used 3 white and 3 brown
- 2 teaspoons of brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons plain flour
- 4 cups of beef stock ~ I used ready made beef consommé
- 1 loaf of sliced ciabatta bread
- 1 block of Swiss cheese
Heat butter and oil in a heavy-based saucepan (this is important as you will be cooking the onions for quite a long time). Add onions and salt, and cook uncovered on a medium to low heat for 45 minutes stirring often until onions are very soft. Stir in sugar and cook for another 10 minutes stirring until onions caramelise. Then add the flour and continue to stir for2 minutes. Add the stock and about 1½ cups of water. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for about 15 minutes. For the cheesy bread top the ciabatta with Swiss cheese and heat in 180 C oven until melted.
Salmon, Potatoes and Mushrooms with Honey Mustard Sauce, Asparagus and Carrots
Wine: 2011 New Zealand Babich Sauvignon Blanc
Salmon with asparagus is a favourite in our house, but I wanted to give it a bit of zing so added baked potatoes and mushrooms with honey mustard dressing. All of this was also very easy to make ~ one just needs to be organised so everything is ready at the same time, and organised is something I’m always on top of!
Ingredients for 4 people:
- 4 skinless salmon steaks
- 6-8 small new potatoes scrubbed and quartered
- 1 bag of medium sized button mushrooms cut into quarters
- 4 bundles of asparagus with woody ends removed
- 3 carrots julienned
- Olive Oil, Butter, Salt and Pepper
Ingredients for dressings ~ Serve over salmon, potatoes and mushrooms:
- 3 tablespoon of red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoon of whole-grain mustard
- 3 teaspoon of honey
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
Toss the quartered potatoes in olive oil, salt and pepper, and bake in 200 C oven in a large bake-to-table dish until tender. Cook the quartered mushrooms in a large pan until slightly browned, and add to the potatoes in the oven when done, to keep warm. Cook the asparagus and julienned carrots, and toss in butter. Sear the salmon on both sides and cook as desired from rare to pink. Serve salmon with the potatoes, mushrooms and dressing, and the asparagus and carrots in a side dish.
Poached Pears with Raspberry Sauce and Ice Cream
Dessert Wine: 2006 Riverina Wolf Blass Gold Label Botrytis Semillon
Poached Pears done in red wine were always a favourite in the seventies, but raspberries sounded just right for lunch. Again, an easy dish to make especially as it was done in the slow cooker. I switched it off when it was done and turned the pears a couple of times so the colour was pink all the way around. As for the dessert wine, I’m not a great wine drinker these days but I did try it, and it was really good. Perfect with the pears!
Ingredients for 4 people:
- 4 pears
- 1 cup castor sugar
- 150g frozen raspberries
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 2 cups cranberry juice
- 1-2 cups of water depending on how strong you want the mix
Combine sugar, juice and water in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook stirring until sugar is combined. Add vanilla and raspberries. Place pears in the slow cooker and add enough of the juice mix to cover halfway up the pears. Cook on high in slow cooker for 1¼ hours or on the stove top until the pears are tender turning every now and again so the colour is uniform all the way around. Place the balance of the mix in a saucepan and slowly reduce to a thick sauce. Serve pears with the reduced sauce and ice cream.
Coconut Milk Ice Cream
I even made some coconut milk ice cream for myself (I tend to get cow belly), and it turned out very well and was great with the pears though I don’t think I’ll make it again. It took practically all day having to blend it every hour. An ice cream maker would have made it lot easier of course. I used to have one, but never used it so gave it away. I think my sister might have it, and I don’t think she uses it either!
- 1 can of coconut milk
- 1 can of coconut cream
- 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
- ½ cup of honey
Blend all ingredients with an electric hand blender and pour into a large freezer-safe bowl. Freeze covered for about 30 minutes, take out and re-blend. Return to freezer and blend again every half hour until ice cream is creamy and frozen through. This takes quite a long time so start making it early in the day. Then pour into a freezer dish, smooth down with a spatula and press plastic wrap to the surface. Freeze overnight. If it freezes rock solid, which it’s not supposed to but mine did, leave it out for 15 minutes before serving and it will be perfect.
It’s always nice to linger over coffee with a cheese platter, but at the end of the day, it was a touch too much food. It was, however, was absolutely delicious for dinner that night as we sat in our comfy chairs and thought about how nice it was that friends made the effort to come such a long way to see us. It was well worth cooking something just a little special!
Inara Hawley © 2013