mexican fiesta

Mexican Fiesta

Renowned for its intense flavours and colourful presentation, Mexican food is the perfect fit for a fun party.
Full of healthy and inexpensive ingredients, what better way to feed a hungry crowd?
Assemble stacks of tortillas, salsas, salads and spicy fillings on the table and watch guests have fun making their own tacos, burritos and quesadillas.
To get the party started, have a huge jug of pre-made margarita mix on hand. I have added pomegranate juice for a twist on the original recipe. Lots of crushed ice helps to dilute it a little, but beware, as it certainly has a kick.
Every party needs a dip, so make this delicious guacamole. I like to finely dice the ingredients to retain their texture. Preserved lemon adds a subtle and complex flavour. Serve with organic corn chips, available from selected supermarkets and delis.
The empanadas are perfect party finger food. Make them ahead and reheat when required. I have also cooked them in the deep fryer with delicious results! If you don’t have the time or inclination to make your own pastry, frozen shortcrust sheets are a suitable substitute.
Lots of fun, bright decorations will add to the theme. Don’t forget a piñata full of sweets for a midnight snack.

pomegranate margaritas

A margarita with a twist -pomegranate juice and plenty of crushed ice. Instead of a salty rim, try sugar.
700ml bottle tequila

500ml cointreau

500ml fresh unsweetened pomegranate juice

250ml freshly squeezed lime juice

¼ (quarter) cup icing sugar

1 lime, cut in half

crushed ice to serve

granulated sugar to dip rim of glass

In a large glass jug, combine tequila, cointreau, pomegranate juice, lime juice and sugar. Stir until the sugar has dissolved. Refrigerate until required. Rub the cut piece of lime around the rim of the glass. Dip rim of glass in sugar for a decorative crust. Fill glass with crushed ice and top with margarita mix. Repeat with remaining mix. serves 10 – 12.

Preserved lemon guacamole

Chop the ingredients finely or blend for a smooth texture. Great as a dip or a flavoursome addition to tacos and burritos.

2 avocadoes, cut into small dice
250g punnet ripe cherry tomatoes, chopped
½ (half) red onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
½ (half) preserved lemon, skin only, finely chopped
juice of 2 limes
few drops green Tabasco (optional)
salt and pepper to season

In a large bowl, combine the avocado, tomato, onion, garlic, chilli, preserved lemon, lime juice, tabasco and gently mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, if necessary.
Serve the guacamole with corn chips.

Serves 4-6.

SPICY BEEF EMPANADAS.

1 ¼ (one and a quarter) cups water
125g softened butter, cut into small pieces
1 ½ (one and a half) tsp salt
4 ½ (four and a half) cups plain flour
2 tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 onion, finely chopped
500g minced beef
1 tbsp fresh oregano, leaves picked and finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh coriander, leaves picked and finely chopped
½ (half) tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoky sweet paprika
½ (half) tsp hot chilli powder
1 tsp salt
½ (half) tsp black pepper
400 g tin Italian diced tomatoes
½ (half) cup raisins
2 hard boiled eggs, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 egg yolk for glaze

To make the pastry, place flour and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the butter and mix until like coarse breadcrumbs. Add the water, a little at a time, until the dough forms. (You might not need all the water). Pat the dough into a ball and flatten it slightly. Wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for an hour.
To prepare the filling, cook the garlic and onion in the oil over low heat without colouring. Add the beef and cook until coloured, breaking up any lumps.
Add the herbs and spices, season with salt and pepper and stir well. Add the tomatoes and raisins and simmer for ten minutes over low heat to reduce the liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning if required.
When cool, stir through the hard boiled eggs.
Preheat oven to 200C.
Divide the dough into 4cm balls (you should get 24) and roll each one out on a floured surface to make a thin circle. Place a heaped tablespoon of the mixture into the middle of each piece of pastry, seal the edges with a little water and pinch the edges or twist them to seal.
Line two oven trays with baking paper and arrange the empanadas on top. Brush with egg yolk to glaze.
Bake in the top of the oven for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and crisp all over.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool just a little before eating.

Makes about 24.

stone fruit

Juicy fruits

Stone fruit is at its peak right now. There’s nothing better than enjoying a perfectly ripe peach, apricot or nectarine- juicy, sweet and full of flavour.

When selecting fruit, it should yield slightly to gentle pressure in your hands. Colour is not necessarily a guide to flavour, but make sure there is no green colour around the stem as this indicates unripe fruit. Ideally, there will be a balance of sweet and tart flavours. As the fruit ripens, it will become softer and juicier, although it is generally agreed that the fruit will not continue to ripen once picked.

Most fruit is commercially transported while still firm, as the fruit bruises easily.

Allow it to continue to soften at room temperature and only refrigerate when it has reached the desired softness.

Whilst there are many individual varieties of stone fruits, there are two major types of peaches and nectarines: yellow and white flesh. White peaches and nectarines ripen faster than yellow fleshed varieties. They can be clingstone, freestone or semi freestone. As the name implies, with clingstone varieties, the flesh clings to the fruit’s pit and freestone separate easily. As a rule, early season are clingstone, moving to freestone in the peak season.

Not just for dessert, peaches are especially delicious served in a simple salad. Try a combination of buffalo mozzarella and cured meats for a balance of salty and sweet flavours. Or try apricots, simply poached in a light sugar syrup with any combination of aromatics such as cinnamon sticks, cardamon pods, star anise, vanilla pods and citrus zest.

And lastly, you really should try the hazelnut frangipane tart. It’s very quick and easy to whip up, yet looks so professional and tastes like a little slice of heaven.

nectarine and hazelnut frangipane tarts

Whip up some frangipane cream to make these impressive and easy tarts. Use different fruits to make your own flavour combinations.

A really good quality puff pastry will make these even more special.

100g softened unsalted butter

100g caster sugar

100g ground hazelnut meal (or almond meal)

1 egg + 1 yolk

½ (half) tsp vanilla extract

2 ready rolled sheets frozen puff pastry, thawed (I recommend Careme brand)

6 ripe nectarines, cut into thick wedges

orange marmalade to glaze (optional)

To make frangipane cream, place butter, caster sugar and hazelnut meal in a food processor and blend well. Add 1 egg and vanilla essence and process until well mixed. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 200C.

Cut each pastry sheet into three equal lengths. Place on two lined baking trays. Score a 1cm border around the edge with a sharp knife. Brush with egg yolk to glaze. Place spoonfuls of frangipane cream onto the centre of the pastry and spread to the inside edge of the border, about 5mm thick.

Place nectarine slices on top.

Bake in oven for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 180C and bake for a further 15 minutes or until golden brown and puffed around the edges.

Remove tarts from oven and cool on wire racks.

Place some marmalade in a microwave safe bowl and heat on medium power for 20 seconds to warm.

Glaze the tarts with warmed marmalade, if desired.

makes 6.

salad of fresh peach, serrano ham and buffalo mozzarella

Make a delicious plate of summer with this combination of the sweetness of juicy ripe peaches, the mild creamy slightly tart freshness of buffalo mozzarella, the salty smokiness of thinly shaved serrano ham and the fresh zingy hit from basil and mint.

1 cup rocket

½ (half) cup torn mint leaves

½ (half) cup torn basil laves

4 ripe peaches

2 tbsp hazelnut oil

½ (half) tbsp sherry vinegar

salt and pepper to season

2 buffalo mozzarella

8 slices serrano ham

Scatter rocket and herbs over a serving platter.

Mix oil and vinegar together with salt and pepper to season. Drizzle over dressing and gently toss.

Halve peaches and remove pits. Cut into thick wedges.

Tear the mozzarella with your hands and place on the platter. Drape over the serrano ham and tuck in the peach slices. Season with a little extra salt and pepper.

Serve with a crusty ciabatta.

Serves 4.

poached apricots with orange blossom water

A simple poaching syrup that can be used for many different fruits. The cooking time will depend on the firmness of the fruit.

2 cups sugar

4 cups water

1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped

2 star anise

1 cinnamon stick

1 orange

1 lemon

1 kg ripe apricots

2 tbsp orange blossom water

thick yoghurt to serve

Place water and sugar in a wide based pan and cook over medium low heat until the sugar dissolves. Add vanilla pod and seeds, star anise and cinnamon. Peel two thick strips of skin from the orange and lemon with a vegetable peeler. Reserve the orange and lemon for another use. Add to the poaching liquid and cook gently for 10 minutes to allow the flavours to infuse.

Halve the apricots and add to the pan. Reduce heat to low and gently cook for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and cool. Add orange blossom water.

Serve at room temperature, or chilled, with a dollop of yoghurt.

serves 6.

pears

A good Pear (Rediscover the pear)

by Caroline Velik

With such a variety of exotic fruits jostling for prime position in the fruit bowl, pears can easily be overlooked. Deliciously sweet and juicy when ripe, they make a great snack. With the additional health benefits of being high in fibre and low GI, what’s not to like?

Pears are usually sold before they’re ripe, so allow a few days for them to ripen at room temperature. Ripe fruit can then be stored in the refrigerator to keep fresh.

To check when a pear is ready to eat, press the flesh around the stem gently. It will give a little when it’s ripe.

There are many varieties of pears and you will see different types at the market throughout the year. The well-known yellow Williams pears are available from January to May. They are great as a snack or for poaching and baking. Green coloured Packham pears are available from May to January. They are also good for eating fresh and can be used in baking, poaching, tarts and salads. My favourite, the Beurre Bosc, is a brown pear available from March to November. It’s one of the best all rounders for cooking. Josephine pears, available from April to November, are renowned for their flavour and are one of the best eating pears. Red Sensation is a beautiful red and yellow pear available February to May. Try in a fruit salad or dessert. The Red Anjou is another beauty, deep red in colour, available from April to November. Enjoy as a snack or slice into a salad. Corella pears are another favourite, available from April to October. Delicious eaten fresh, their small size makes them perfect for the lunchbox.

So do a second take when you’re passing the pears, pick up a few extra and try out some of these delicious recipes.

baked pears with blue cheese, prosciutto, walnuts and honey mustard dressing

A lovely entree or light lunch. This sensational salad combines pears with creamy blue cheese, honey roasted walnuts, salt prosciutto and peppery rocket. Use any of the baking pears or simply slice fresh pears for a quick alternative.

4 small pears

2 tbsp walnut oil

freshly ground pepper to season

8 fresh thyme sprigs

150g freshly shelled walnuts (600g in shell)

1 tbsp honey + 1 tsp extra

pinch sea salt

100ml olive oil

2 tsp whole grain mustard

2 tsp Dijon mustard

20ml red wine vinegar

100g rocket leaves

8 slices prosciutto

200g creamy blue cheese (such as Jindi Blue, Southcape or Blue Castello)

Preheat oven to 180C.

Halve pears and remove core. Place in baking dish cut side up, drizzle with walnut oil, season with pepper and scatter over thyme sprigs.

On a separate oven tray, scatter walnuts, drizzle with 1 tbsp honey and season with salt. Toss well to coat, then spread out on the tray.

Place both dishes in the oven and cook for 20 minutes, until the pears are soft and the walnuts are crisp. Remove and allow to cool slightly.

To make salad dressing, whisk olive oil with mustard, 1 tsp honey and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

Toss rocket leaves with a little dressing and place on serving plates.

Scatter over the honeyed walnuts, lay two slices of prosciutto on each plate, top with two pear halves and add some blue cheese. Drizzle over extra dressing and serve.

serves 4.

Pear chutney

I have made this chutney for years at the local primary school produce stall. It is light with a slight sweetness from the pears and refreshing citrus zing. Serve beside pork chops, bbq sausages or with cheese and bikkies.

1.25kg firm pears

1 large green apple

2 large brown onions, diced

1 tbsp grated lemon rind

1 tbsp grated orange rind

¾ (three quarter) cup raisins

1 cup sugar

1 ¼ (one and a quarter) cups white vinegar

1 cup water

½ (half) tsp ground ginger

¼ (quarter) tsp ground cloves

1 tsp salt

Peel and core pears and apples and chop into small pieces.

Combine all ingredients in a large heavy based pot.

Stir, bring to boil and simmer for one hour until thick and syrupy.

Cool slightly and put in warm, sterile jars. Seal jars when cool.

Makes 8 – 10  x 250ml jars.

Tip:

To sterilise jars – wash jars and lids in hot soapy water. Rinse. Place upside down on tray in warm oven for 20 minutes. Useful to keep in oven whilst making the jam/chutney.

Upside down Caramel Pear cake

This cake is easy to make and looks divine. The sticky brown caramel glazes the pears and seeps into the cake, making it moist and delicious. Serve warm from the oven with vanilla ice cream for a decadent dessert.

1 cup sugar

1/3 (third) cup water

3 firm pears

2 large eggs

1/3 (third) cup raw sugar

½ (half) tsp vanilla essence

zest of one orange

zest of one lemon

100g unsalted butter, melted

1 cup self raising flour

Preheat oven to 170C fan forced (190C conventional).

Grease a 20cm cake tin with removable base and line the bottom with baking paper.

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan and warm gently until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and cook until the liquid is a light caramel colour. Pour into the tin and swirl around to cover the base.

Peel, core and quarter the pears. Arrange on top of the caramel, with the points facing towards the centre.

Beat the eggs with the raw sugar, vanilla, orange and lemon zest. Add melted butter. Mix in flour. Place spoonfuls of the batter over the top of the pears and gently spread, so as not to disturb the pears.

Bake in oven for 30-40 minutes or until the cake is set in the centre.

Remove from oven and turn out onto a plate whilst the cake is still hot.

serves 6.