last minute christmas

Last minute Christmas lunch

photo Marina Oliphant

(Well, it’s actually past christmas, but this was my last minute christmas column for Epicure and Good Living. Not to worry, as these recipes are suited to summer cooking).

Here’s a simple and stylish lunch that suits our warm summery climate and requires minimal fuss.

The ceviche cooks itself, so it’s easy to prepare in advance. Usually made with white fish, I have used my favourite seafood, as a special Christmas treat. To feed a crowd, double the quantities and serve as an appetiser in small shot glasses or bamboo cocktail plates.

For the main event, I have used scampi, but prawns would also do very well. Grilling in the shells protects the delicate flesh from overcooking. A sprinkle of sechuan orange salt provides a flavour hit. These would also be delicious as part of a seafood banquet.

To finish off, there’s nothing better than enjoying fresh seasonal fruits. The cherry granita needs to be made ahead, but then it’s basically ready to serve, with whatever fruits you like. It’s light and refreshing and you’ll definitely have room for some Christmas pud.

Merry Christmas, enjoy a restful break and I’ll look forward to giving you more recipe ideas in 2011.


Prawn, scallop and ocean trout ceviche

Ceviche is made using fresh raw fish marinated in citrus juice. The citrus provides flavour, but also ‘cooks the fish’, by denaturing the protein. It is important to use fresh good quality seafood when making this. You can use a combination of lemon and lime juice, if limes are very expensive.

8 large green prawns

200 g ocean trout fillet, skin off

6 scallops, roe removed

7 large limes, juiced (approx 1 cup juice)

1 punnet ripe cherry tomatoes

1 red onion, finely chopped

1 avocado, peeled and diced

1 cup loosely packed coriander leaves

10 large mint leaves, shredded

1 long red chilli, deseeded and finely sliced

1-2 tbsp olive oil

sea salt and ground black pepper to season


Peel and clean prawns, removing intestinal tract and rinsing well. Slice into 1 cm chunks. Dice ocean trout and scallops into 1 cm pieces.

Place seafood in a glass bowl with enough lime juice to cover, then refrigerate and marinate for 2 hours to ‘cook’ the fish.

Cut tomatoes into quarters and mix with onion and avocado.

Remove fish from fridge and check to see that the fish has changed colour. It should all be opaque and look cooked. (If there are still pieces that look raw, stir well and place back in fridge for another 30 minutes). Remove and drain off the lime juice.

Gently combine fish with tomato and avocado mixture and fold through herbs and chilli. Drizzle over some olive oil, season with salt and pepper and serve.


Serves 4.

grilled scampi with Sichuan orange salt and pickled cucumber

photo Marina Oliphant


12 scampi (or substitute large prawns)

zest ½ (half) orange

3 tsp sea salt

½ (half) tsp Sichuan pepper

¾ (three quarters) cup rice wine vinegar

3 tbsp sugar

2 lebanese cucumbers

1 red onion

300g red cabbage

1 cup fresh coriander sprigs

handful fresh mint leaves

1 long red chilli, deseeded and sliced


To butterfly the scampi, use a sharp knife to cut down the middle, keeping the head, tail and shell on. Try to keep the shell attached at the mid point, allowing you to open out the scampi flat. Cut through the head section and tail completely (use kitchen scissors to make it easy). Rinse the head under running water to clean. Remove intestinal tract, pat dry with paper towel and set aside. Repeat with all the scampi.

Preheat oven to 180C fan forced (200C conventional), place orange zest on oven tray and dry out in oven for about 10 minutes.

Remove and cool, then place in mortar and pestle with salt and Sichuan pepper and pound. Set aside.

For the salad, place vinegar and sugar in a large bowl. Finely slice cucumber, red onion and cabbage with a mandoline or V slicer, and place in vinegar to soften for 10 minutes.

Place in a serving bowl and toss with fresh herbs and chilli.

Heat a bbq or grill plate to high, sprinkle scampi with a little Sichuan orange salt and grill, shell side down for 1-2 minutes. Turn and grill flesh side down for about 30 seconds. Remove and repeat with remaining scampi.

Arrange on platter and serve with extra Sichuan orange salt and pickled cucumber salad.


Serves 4.

mango cheeks with cherry granita

photo Marina Oliphant

A summery treat for both big and little kids, alike. For a variation, use any combination of seasonal berries in addition to the cherries when making the granita, for a light and refreshing finish to lunch.

1 kg cherries

300g caster sugar

200 ml water

1 lemon, juiced

4 ripe mangoes


Remove stalks and pips from cherries. Process in a food processor until smooth. Set aside.

Place sugar and water in a small saucepan over low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium and simmer for a few minutes. Set aside to cool completely.

Pour cold syrup over cherries, add lemon juice and stir well.

Place mixture into a shallow metal tray, cover and place in freezer.

After one hour, or when the granita has begun to set, use a fork to break up.

Return to freezer for another hour, then repeat procedure with the fork.

Store in freezer until set and ready to use. Before serving, break up with a fork again.

Cut mangoes on either side of the central pip to give two cheeks.

Serve with cherry granita.


Serves 4-6.




photo Marina Oliphant

Garlic is a wonderful, strong tasting bulb that belongs to the onion family. It is an essential component of many cuisines. Australian garlic is harvested in late spring to mid summer, so have a look in the market for firm, moist heads of garlic to enjoy right now. When it is picked fresh, garlic has a subtle flavour, which becomes more pungent as it dries out. Green garlic shoots are available at the start of the season; they look like small garlic bulbs with green stalks and are considered a delicacy, but are not available for long, so try them if you are lucky enough to see them.

An interesting type of garlic has become available recently. You may have seen black garlic in specialist food stores. It is garlic that has undergone fermentation. During the process, sugars and amino acids that are present in raw garlic produce a dark coloured substance, which is responsible for its unique colour. Its flavour is sweet, subtle and complex. Whilst it can be used in place of raw garlic in most recipes, a simple dish of scrambled eggs showcases its flavour, as a simple and elegant supper.

By roasting garlic, you can also change its flavour, with the sugars concentrating to produce a sweeter result. Roasted garlic doesn’t have the pungency of raw garlic, as the chemical reaction, which occurs when raw garlic is cut, cannot occur once the garlic is roasted. I have used roasted garlic in my aioli recipe for a more subtle, sweet and complex flavour. This is for anyone who doesn’t enjoy ‘garlic breath’.

For hard core garlic lovers, nothing beats garlic bread. Start with a great artisan sourdough baguette and reinvent this classic. Indulge in its buttery garlicky flavours, and be generous with the filling so that it drips down your chin.

And to combat the dreaded ‘garlic breath’, simply eat a salad or an apple afterwards. The browning enzymes in these raw foods transform the chemicals that persist in the mouth after a good dose of garlic into odourless molecules, which is probably why some people swear by eating a sprig of fresh parsley too.

roasted garlic aioli

photo Marina Oliphant


Roasted garlic gives aioli a more subtle, sweet and complex flavour. You could also try this recipe with black garlic (no need to roast the garlic first).

1 head of garlic

1 egg yolk

150ml mild flavoured oil (olive, grapeseed or vegetable)

lemon juice to taste

sea salt and black pepper to season


Preheat oven to 180C fan forced.

Wrap garlic in foil and cook for about 45 minutes, until very soft when pierced with a skewer.

Remove from oven, unwrap and allow to cool a little, before removing the garlic cloves from their papery skins. They should pop out easily with a gentle squeeze.

Place 8 cloves in a food processor with egg yolk and a pinch of salt. Blend. With the motor running, slowly add the oil, a little at a time until you have a smooth creamy consistency, like mayonnaise.

Add lemon juice to taste and season with black pepper.


Makes 1 cup.


note: leftover roasted garlic can be stored in a container in the fridge and used in place of raw garlic in recipes.


Scrambled eggs with smoked ocean trout and black garlic

photo Marina Oliphant

To enjoy the unique flavour of black garlic, make a simple recipe of scrambled eggs paired with delicious ocean trout for an extravagent brunch, light lunch or supper.

4 eggs

2 tbsp milk or cream

sea salt and black pepper to taste

3 cloves black garlic, peeled and sliced

2 tbsp butter

4 slices smoked ocean trout

4 thick slices toasted sourdough

fresh chervil or parsley to garnish


Break eggs into a medium bowl and lightly whisk with milk or cream. Add black garlic and season with salt and pepper.

Melt butter in a medium non stick pan, add eggs and gently cook over low heat until soft curds start to form. Use a wooden spoon to stir the eggs to distribute and allow the remaining egg to cook. Remove from the heat when the curds have just formed and the mixture is still wet and glossy looking.

Pile onto toast and serve with slices of ocean trout, Garnish with fresh chervil and extra salt and pepper.


serves 2.

Garlic Bread

photo Marina Oliphant

For great garlic bread, start with a good quality baguette.

4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely diced

125g soft butter

½ (half) cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

1 good quality baguette


Preheat oven to 180C fan forced.

Mix garlic with butter and parsley to blend.

Make vertical cuts into the baguette, three quarters of the way down, at 2cm intervals all the way along.

Spread generous amounts of garlic butter on all cut faces of the bread. Spread any leftover butter over the top of the baguette.

Wrap tightly in foil and bake in oven for 30 minutes, until the butter has melted into the bread. If desired, open up the foil and bake for a further 5 minutes until the top is golden and crisp.

Serve immediately.


Serves 4.

photo Marina Oliphant


strawberry fields forever

Strawberries are one of my favourite fruits. The local season is starting now and continues throughout summer. Visit a weekend farmers market or make a trip to a berry farm to experience the flavour of perfectly ripe local strawberries.

There are several varieties of strawberries grown commercially, so it’s worth a chat with your grocer to note the name of the ones you like (as it’s not always on the punnet).

When selecting strawberries, remember that bigger isn’t necessarily better. Small strawberries are equally as sweet and juicy as large ones. The perfect strawberry should be fully coloured (with no white or green), firm, bright, plump and shiny. The cap (calyx) should be green and fresh looking.

To store strawberries, remove from the punnet and place in a large container lined with absorbent paper. Store in the fridge, loosely covered. Wash berries, then remove calyx just prior to serving. For maximum flavour, serve strawberries at room temperature.

When making jam, use fruit that is a bit under ripe to help the jam set. Strawberry jam is notorious for not setting, as the berries are low in pectin. However, I found that making a small quantity worked well.

For a special dessert, the rhubarb and strawberry crostata is one of my favourite recipes. I think it’s best made with small sized strawberries. Not only is it quick and easy to make, it looks impressive.

And for a twist on the classic combination of strawberries and cream, whiz up some strawberry puree and make the strawberry fool.

With their glossy red skins and sweet, heady fragrance, ripe and juicy strawberries are a special treat to enjoy.



Strawberry vanilla jam

photo Marina Oliphant

I have been making large batches of strawberry jam for years and have always encountered problems with it setting. However, I now believe that the secret to strawberry jam is to make it in small quantities.

2 punnets (500g) strawberries

1 ½ (one and a half) cups sugar

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped

3 tbsp lemon juice

Hull strawberries and cut in half.

Place in a heavy based saucepan with vanilla bean and lemon juice and cook gently for a few minutes until warmed through and the fruit is softened.

Add sugar and stir to dissolve. When sugar has dissolved, increase heat and boil rapidly for 10 – 15 minutes or until setting point is reached. Stir jam to prevent it from sticking to the base of the pan.

Check for setting point by placing a teaspoon of jam on a cold saucer and placing it in the freezer for 2 minutes. The jam is ready if a skin forms when you push it gently with your finger and the jam separates into two parts when you run your finger through it. If the jam has not set, return to the heat and check again after a few minutes.

When setting point is reached, remove jam from heat, remove vanilla pod and carefully pour jam into hot sterilised jars. Refrigerate jam when opened.


Makes approximately 2 x 250ml jars.


If your jam does not set, it may be that your strawberries were too ripe. Don’t worry, your jam will still be delicious! Homemade strawberry jam does not always have a firm set. However, if you like your jam this way, you can always use a jam setting agent which is available at the supermarket. Jamsetta is very good. You can add it to jam that has not set and it will ensure that it sets. It is important not to overcook your jam as it will affect the flavour.


Rhubarb and strawberry crostata

photo Marina Oliphant

This is a simple free form tart, which doesn’t require a tin.  Simply turn in the edges to enclose the filling. The custard powder mixes with the fruit juices to make an instant sauce. Use small strawberries for this recipe, as they do not seem as watery as the large ones.

Guy Mirabella has kindly given permission to print this recipe from his book ‘Eat Ate’.

sour cream pastry

200g chilled butter, chopped

250g plain flour

125ml sour cream

1 egg yolk


6 rhubarb stalks, sliced into 2-3cm pieces

500g strawberries, hulled

¾ (three quarters) cup caster sugar

2 tbsp custard powder

grated zest of 1 lemon


450g mascarpone

grated zest 1 lemon

1 tbsp icing sugar


To make the pastry, pulse the butter and flour in a food processor until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and pulse until the dough just forms a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine all the filling ingredients in a large bowl and toss well. In a separate bowl, stir together the mascarpone, lemon zest and sugar.

Preheat the oven to 200C. On a floured surface, roll the pastry out to a rough circle around 5mm thick and 35cm wide. Place on a tray lined with baking paper. Pile the filling into the centre of the pastry and spread it out, leaving about a 5cm edge. Turn the edges over the filling and brush them with the egg yolk. Bake the crostata in the oven until the pastry is golden, around 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Serve straight from the oven topped with the sweet mascarpone.


Serves 8-10.


Strawberry fool

photo Marina Oliphant

The perfect combination of strawberries and cream, with the tangy addition of good quality yoghurt.

500g strawberries, hulled

3 tbsp icing sugar, or to taste

250ml thickened cream

250ml Greek yoghurt

8 coconut macaroons, crumbled


In a food processor, blitz half the strawberries with icing sugar to make a puree.

Slice the remaining strawberries and set aside.

Whip cream until stiff peaks form. Add yoghurt and beat until thick. Fold in strawberry puree and sliced strawberries.

Pour into serving glasses and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Sprinkle with crumbled macaroons before serving.


Serves 4.



Ask the Greek

Greek food shows us all the best parts of the Mediterranean diet. Many of us have grown up with Greek friends and neighbours, due to the massive influx of migrants in the 1950’s and 1960’s. In fact, we have one of the largest Greek populations outside of Greece. So we should be familiar with Greek food and ingredients. Although the Greek people have always appreciated it, we are now taking another look at Greek food and incorporating it into our diet, as its popularity takes off. Remember, it is worthwhile sourcing good quality ingredients, as you will taste the difference. Try a Greek deli, where you may find that the dips are homemade with love and care: taramosalata, made from fish roe, bread, oil, eggs and lemon juice, whipped until light and fluffy. Tzatziki, a garlicky yoghurt dip spiked with cucumber and mint, can be eaten as part of a meze, for grazing, or delicious with souvlaki, as in the recipe below. Quality olive oil is a must; look for a Greek brand. As is real feta cheese, made from sheep and goat’s milk. Kalamata olives, fat, ripe and juicy, are essential. All combine to show that a simple Greek salad, below, is greater than the sum of its parts. Of course, if you can find Greek basil, it’s all the better.

The lemon yoghurt syrup cake has lovely lemony tang. It is not overly sweet and the syrup soaks into the cake, without making it too wet. I think it is at its most delicious, served still slightly warm. Dollop with extra yoghurt, if you like, but it doesn’t really need it.

The Greek table is a place of sharing, friendship and hospitality, so invite some friends and family around and make your own Greek feast.

A Greek Salad

photo Marina Oliphant

Whilst there are many salads in Greek cuisine, this is the most well known.

Of course, you must use the best quality, authentic Greek ingredients, from the olives and oil to the cheese. Feta means ‘slice’ in Greek, so serve a large slice on top of the salad.

4 ripe tomatoes

1 lebanese cucumber

1 red onion

1 cup Greek Kalamata olives

handful fresh mint leaves

handful fresh basil leaves

handful fresh oregano leaves

200g Greek feta cheese

sprinkle dried Greek oregano

3 tbsp Greek olive oil

1 tbsp red wine vinegar

sea salt and ground black pepper to season


Cut tomatoes into large wedges. Cut cucumber into thick rounds. Peel onion and cut into wedges. Place in a salad bowl, then add olives, mint, basil, fresh oregano and toss. Place a slice of feta cheese on top and sprinkle over dried oregano.

Make a simple dressing by combining olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle over the salad.


serves 4.


Chargrilled lamb souvlaki

photo Marina Oliphant

In Greece, they make souvlaki with pork, but here in Australia, we use lamb. Either way, it’s delicious.

1 kg diced lamb shoulder

½ (half) cup olive oil

2 lemons, juiced

1 tbsp dried oregano

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

sea salt and freshly ground pepper

8-10 small pita breads

1 cup tzatziki

salad leaves to serve


Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, cover with clingfilm and allow to marinate for a few hours in the refrigerator.

Remove and place meat on metal skewers.

Heat a grill or bbq to very hot, then cook skewers for a few minutes on each side, until cooked to your liking.

Serve with warmed pita breads, tzatziki and salad.


Serves 4-6.


lemon yoghurt syrup cake

photo Marina Oliphant

A lovely, moist cake with a lemony tang.

125g butter, softened

250g caster sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup greek yoghurt

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

zest 2 lemons

3 tbsp lemon juice

400g self raising flour

½ tsp bicarb soda


1 cup caster sugar

1 cup water

4 tbsp lemon juice

2 lemons, finely sliced


Preheat oven to 180C.

Grease and line a 23cm cake tin with removable base.

Cream butter and sugar in an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and continue to mix until combined. Add yoghurt, vanilla, lemon zest and juice and mix. Add flour and bicarb and gently fold through.

Place mixture in cake tin and smooth the surface. The mixture will be quite firm.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until cake is cooked through.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Combine sugar, water and lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over low heat to dissolve the sugar. Add lemon slices and simmer for 10 minutes, to soften the lemons. Set aside.

When cake is cooked, remove from oven and poke all over with a bamboo skewer, to make lots of small holes. Slowly pour the lemon syrup over the hot cake until it is all absorbed.

Place the lemon slices decoratively on top.

Allow to cool, then remove from tin.