Dead Easy Seafood Laksa


This is not an authentic Laksa, and perhaps it’s better for it.

The way I develop my recipes is by finding one that looks interesting in a cookbook or on the web, and then tweaking it until I’m happy with the result. That usually takes 2 or 3 attempts. Sometimes more.

This one started life as piece of fish in a spicy Asian sauce. It wasn’t spicy enough, the coconut milk dominated the flavour, and it was awkward to eat. The second attempt was better, except for the fish sauce pushing to the front. By the third attempt, everything came together.


First, a confession: Asian dishes are not my forte. Because everything usually happens in a short amount of time (in a wok), you can’t make adjustments at your leisure as you can with a casserole. That means it’s best to have all the ingredients laid out and ready to go before you start. It’s also a good idea to cook in small batches.


  • Seafood – choose prawns, calamari and firm fish like blue-eyed cod or ling
  • A couple of big chilies, one green, one red. Take out the seeds
  • 2-3 Spring onions
  • Strips of red and green capsicum
  • A couple of cloves of garlic, chopped up or minced
  • A table spoon of fresh ginger, grated (to your taste)
  • A small amount of fresh turmeric, grated
  • A tea spoon of ground turmeric (from a herb jar)
  • One stalk of lemongrass, chopped into 2 inch lengths
  • A can of coconut cream
  • Sour cream (for final adjustment)
  • A small coup of vegetable stock
  • A small cup of white wine
  • A table spoon of fish sauce
  • A knob of butter
  • Small Lemon (for some grated rind and some juice)
  • Bagette
  • Noodles
  • Sesame oil for frying


  1. I cook the seafood and the noodles separately and add them to the dish later
  2. Stir-fry the other ingredients, and add the spices, the wine, stock and coconut cream
  3. Add fish sauce carefully, tasting before you add more.
  4. Add chopped spring onion tails (or shallots and/or some parsley – we want the green)
  5. Add seafood and noodles, take off heat and serve as soon as they’re warmed through.

Some Extra Hints

Always adjust the recipe to your preferences; my recipes aren’t designed to be followed slavishly or religiously. They’re not blueprints, they’re just ideas to stimulate your creative juices. I say that because most of us have strong preferences, likes and dislikes. Years ago, I used to loathe garlic, chili, curry and oysters. I still loathe brains and offal.

If you leave the garlic out of one of my recipes, it won’t destroy the dish. Same goes for chili, ginger and other strong spices. Suit your taste: use a little less or a little more. The only thing I’m stubborn about is the ingredients you use. Always get the best and freshest you can get hold of, whether it’s seafood or meat or chicken or vegetables.

I’m not so stubborn about stock, mind you. My friend and I both learned to make stock the Cordon Bleu way many years ago. He still goes to the fish market early on a Saturday morning to buy lots of fish heads and stuff, then races home and boils it all down to a delicious extract. I cheat and use ready-made commercial stock. If I can’t tell the difference, why worry?

In a recent blog post, I gave away my secret ingredients. There are 2 more I should’ve added:

Rice and pasta tend to be afterthoughts. Cooks pay attention to the main actors, but neglect the supporting cast. This brand of rice, cooked for 17 -18 minutes, is the most fluffy Basmati rice I know. The Barilla Fettucine Collezione Toscane is my favourite pasta. I’ve tried all kinds of artisan / home-made pasta, and none comes close to this $3 product – don’t ask me why not. The mouthfeel and taste of this pasta are just right to my taste, after 10 minutes of cooking. I like my pasta between al dente and soggy.


Dead Easy Spicy Chicken Casserole


I work hard to get rich flavours in my chicken casseroles, and I admit that this is a work in progress. Casseroles are a bit of work but it’s not too finicky as you can taste and adjust various elements while the dish cooks slowly. I tend to fall back on a few ingredients that make the job easier, and this snapshot shows the main ones



  • Good quality Maryland pieces and wings (3-4 of each / 1.5 kgs)
  • 400 g of Speck or thick bacon
  • Two heaped tablespoons of flour
  • Teaspoon of sweet paprika
  • Olive Oil
  • 5 spring onions
  • 1 leek
  • 2 fennel roots
  • 2 small red capsicums or 4 red peppers, one green capsicum or green pepper
  • 1 zucchini chopped into thick slices
  • 1 can of crushed or chopped tomatoes
  • Big handful of Swiss Brown or field mushrooms
  • Can of green peppercorns (pour off the liquid)
  • 6 tablespoons of Beerenberg Tomato and Cracked Pepper Relish
  • Half a bottle of dry white wine
  • 1- 2 cups of chicken stock (adjust as needed)
  • Seasoning
  • Thyme, Italian Herbs, Oregano, pinch of chili flakes
  • 3 bay leaves
  • A jar of SACLA capsicum & eggplant stir-through
  • Tablespoon of balsamic reduction
  • Teaspoon of grated lemon rind


Putting it Together

First 20 minutes:

  • Dust the chicken with flour and paprika, pan-fry five minutes on each side
  • Add the spring onions, keep the tails aside
  • Add the crushed tomato and some wine to the pan, stir; let it simmer for a bit
  • Add a generous amount of seasoning
  • Chop the veggies into biggish chunks, set the mushrooms and zucchinis aside
  • Put everything except the bits you set aside into the oven in a casserole dish, add more wine if needed

Now you can have a break, pour yourself a glass of wine, clean up after phase I …

40 minutes from the start:

  • Panfry the mushrooms in butter, pesto and wine but don’t drown them. Just for a few minutes; they’ll cook some more in the casserole
  • Add the mushrooms to casserole, along with the zucchini slices and spring onion tails
  • Add the speck or bacon cut in chunks

A Note on Technique:

At this stage, I put the (metal) casserole dish across two flames on on the stove on low heat, to keep it all bubbling away while I add herbs, taste the dish and make various adjustments:

  • Add the green peppercorns (our off the liquid), the Beerenberg Tomato and Cracked Pepper Relish, the chicken stock, Seasoning, herbs, chili flakes, bay leaves, balsamic reduction, grated lemon rind …
  • Add the SACLA capsicum & eggplant stir-through, the Tomato and Cracked Pepper Relish and the green peppercorns judging the quantity after taste test.

We want spice and flavour rather than lots of heat. We don’t want a thin sauce or a thick one – aim for somewhere in between.

1 hour from the start:

Put the casserole back in the over, after giving everything a good stir

It should be ready in half an hour. Serve with a big old Riesling or a big, buttery Chardonnay.

Dead simple Hamburgers that work a Treat


In the days when we were brainwashed that fat makes you fat, we began choosing leaner meat. That included minced meat labelled heart-smart, which turns out neither smart for the heart nor smart for hamburgers.

For years I tried all kinds of tricks, from adding breadcrumbs and eggs, to adding tomato paste and secret herbs. I pan-fired the burgers, grilled the burgers and barbequed the burgers. No matter what I did, they came out too dry.

In my desperation, I turned to the web and found that you need some fat in the mince, unless you want your burgers to dry out. Fat is what makes Wagyu beef so delicious, or beef cheeks, or pork belly. Embrace it, and you can start enjoying hamburgers again. The rest is easy.

  1. Get some good quality ground beef or lamb (lamb tends to be fat enough)
  2. Add some finely chopped spring onions or shallots
  3. I like to add a crumbled up slice of bread
  4. Don’t spare the seasoning!!
  5. Add Basil and Oregano or Italian herbs (dried is fine)

Mix it all up gently, minimise handling, make the patties thick enough- about 2cm, pat them into shape but don’t push too hard. Fry or grill or barbeque over fairly high heat in olive or avocado oil (higher smoke point). Cooking time is roughly 5 mins for rare, 7.5 for medium and 10 for well done – just like steak.

We put some Castello cheese on the patties 2 minutes before the end, just long enough to melt. We tend to eat the patties with a Caesar salad and no buns, so please choose your favourite buns lightly grilled, and your favourite toppings.

That’s it

Dead Easy Braised Pork Neck / Pork Belly


I saw the pork neck on special at the local butcher’s, and it got my creative juices going. Make sure there’s enough fat in the neck – there usually is but I ended up with a fairly lean neck. You can also use pork belly with this recipe; simply reduce the cooking time by one third (an hour roughly).

I’ve found it hard to get rich flavours out of pork dishes, so I tried an Asian twist with apple cider and ginger. Like all casseroles, you can taste and adjust various elements as the dish cooks slowly. It should have a rich, exotic impact, but it should not be simply sweet. The dry white should provide the balance.

DSC_3925As usual I got too involved in the process to remember the photo. This one is straight from the fridge, the pork is buried underneath

It’s the usual routine, not as arduous as it looks:

  1. Brown the pork on both sides in a big frypan (use olive oil or similar), after you’ve sprinkled a tablespoon of flour on each side plus seasoning.
  1. Move to a casserole dish, pour in the cider and the wine, add the onions and cook for an hour 30 minutes at 150 degrees. Check halfway through the first stage, and turn the neck over. The top half should be roasting, the bottom half broiling. Adjust liquid if necessary by adding chicken stock.

(Allow 3 hours total cooking time for a big neck, two for a belly. The times I list here are for the neck, simply reduce by one-third if you’re cooking pork belly).

  1. After 1 hour 30 minutes,
  • add all the veggies, chopped into biggish chunks.
  • add stock if needed
  • add tomato paste, ginger, mustard and Sacla Sauce (see below)
  • add balsamic, bay leaves and lemon rind
  1. Taste and adjust seasoning, mustard, stock , stir the liquid and turn over the meat, return to the oven.
  2. Half an hour before the finish, add sage and thyme, check taste and liquid again – the liquid should not be thick, but should not be as thin as soup either. Aim for somewhere in between.
  3. Serve with rice, potatoes or noodles.

INGREDIENTS – this looks like a lot but it isn’t really

  • Pork neck / belly – 1.5 – 2kg / 1- 1.3 kg – give or take
  • Two heaped tablespoons of flour
  • 7 – 10 spring or pickling onions
  • 1 leek
  • 3 fennel roots
  • 2 small red capsicums or 4 red peppers
  • 1 zucchini chopped into slices
  • 375ml of apple cider (alcoholic, dry)
  • Half a bottle of dry white wine
  •  1- 2 cups of chicken stock (adjust as needed)
  • Seasoning
  • 2 teaspoons of sage (fresh or dried leaves)
  • Teaspoon of thyme
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon of grated ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons of grain mustard (mild)
  • 4 tablespoons of SACLA capsicum & eggplant stir-through
  • Small tin of tomato paste
  • Tablespoon of balsamic reduction / vinegar
  • Grated lemon rind

Serve with a big old Riesling or big Pinot Gris or a rich, buttery Chardonnay. Try a light, sweet fruit Pinot Noir if you’re game.

Duck a l’Orange


OK, you haven’t had this dish for decades – it’s so seventies, no?

The other night, a couple cooked this dish on MKR and I thought about it for the first time in decades. I checked the MKR recipe but the sauce had 1001 ingredients so I jumped on the web to check alternatives.


Eventually I came up with my own simple version of this dish, but as usual when I’m busy in the kitchen I forget to take a photo. In essence, you squeeze some orange juice into a small pot or pan, heat it up and add some sugar or honey so that the sauce caramelizes as it reduces slowly. So far, so good, but we have nothing more than a sweet sauce at this point so we’ll have to add some substance.

The good thing is that you can do this gradually, while you keep tasting as you slowly reduce the sauce. I gradually added:

  • Some thin strips of orange peel with the pitch removed
  • A dash of red wine
  • A dash of balsamic reduction
  • Two teaspoons of caramelized onion jam
  • Two teaspoons of marmalade (I used Lime, which was all I had)
  • Handful of finely chopped shallots
  • Half a cup of chicken stock

I’ve had mixed success with duck, following recipes that suggest frying or roasting Marylands for half an hour. When you do that, the duck will not be cooked through but dried out. The best way to cook duck Marylands is as a confit, which means cooking them in duck fat very slowly. That’s what I did today but I didn’t have that much time so I browned the duck pieces for a few minutes in a pan, then cooked them submerged in duck fat for an hour and ten minutes in the oven at 360 degrees.

I chucked in a few pickling onions (spring onions have been hard to find) and some sliced potatoes as well. You can use the duck fat a number of times since it’s very stable (just put it back in the container it came in once it’s cooled down a little).

The potatoes got a bit soggy and needed some time in the fry pan once I poured the fat off. I poured the sauce over the duck pieces, added the fried potatoes and some steamed green beans, and chose a 2013 Massale Pinot Noir that I recommended 18 months ago – I got that one right.


Easy Coq au Vin – Chicken in Wine

There are many versions of this French dish, including a Coq au Riesling from Alsace. This is the version from Burgundy that uses a light red wine from that region. The original dish was intended to make old roosters as tough as cockatoos edible, but it’s a whole lot easier if you start with a good quality chicken.


Feeds 4, needs 2 hours cooking time (mostly in the oven)


  • 1kg chicken pieces – wings and Maryland, separate the legs from the thighs
  • 400 g of speck or thick bacon
  • Half a bottle of light red wine
  • Tin of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 T of flour
  • Chicken stock to suit
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic
  • 4-5 spring onions (keep the green tails for later
  • 4 carrots cut into 1 inch chunks
  • Two handfuls of Swiss brown mushrooms
  • Thyme, Rosemary, lemon zest
  • Seasoning, olive oil, butter

The Process

  • Roll the chicken pieces in the flour, place in a large frypan with olive oil
  • Add garlic and onions, sprinkle with left-over flour
  • brown both sides of the chicken
  • add speck / bacon, carrots, crushed tomatoes and red wine
  • cook for a few minutes, then transfer to a casserole dish
  • add enough chicken stock to cover
  • add seasoning and stir well
  • put the dish in the oven at 170⁰ for an hour and a half

It should pretty much cook itself, but you need to check it after half an hour and adjust liquid and seasoning if needed.

After an hour, fry the sliced mushrooms in a little butter and sprinkle with dried or fresh rosemary and thyme, add the chopped up spring onion tails or shallots, and stir-fry for a couple of minutes before adding to the casserole. Add the lemon zest, then check the dish for taste and liquid level and adjust as needed.  Put back in the oven for another half hour, then serve with potatoes, pasta or rice.


Delicious Beef On Ribs Stew

A real winter warmer

Some of our tastiest dishes come from hard times in the distant past, when our mums had to buy meat as tough as old boots and turn it into a feast. This is one of those. You can substitute the veggies to suit yourself, but the core of the dish is a bunch of beef bones. The bone marrow adds depth of flavour and silky texture to the stew, and it’s full of nutrients.


If you’re worried about the fat, you can trim the meat or read The Cholesterol Myth – They can silence ABC’s Catalyst but they can’t make the facts go away.

Total cooking time: 2 hours 15 minutes (mostly in the oven)

Feeds 4 to 6, keeps for days in the fridge

Here’s what you need:

  • 1.5 kgs for marrow bones, brisket bones, short ribs, chuck ribs (pictured), beef Osso Buco and oxtail. Go easy on the oxtail since the flavour can overpower the other meats.
  • 300g or thereabouts of speck or thick bacon
  • 4-5 spring or small onions
  • Garlic to your taste
  • 3-4 carrots, chopped into chunks
  • 2 fennel bulbs, discard the hard outer shell and the stalks, and chop into halves or quarters
  • Red or green capsicum or both
  • A breakfast bowl of Swiss brown mushrooms, cut into chunks or left whole if they’re small
  • Can of crushed or chopped tomatoes
  • 500 ml Beef stock
  • 2-3 glasses red wine
  • Water to suit
  • 2 x tablespoons of flour
  • Seasoning
  • Bay leaves, oregano, rosemary and thyme (dried is fine), and a dash of balsamic vinegar
  • Spring Onion Tails or shallots, parsley

Options: you can substitute fennel bulbs with parsnips or turnips or potatoes or all of these. You can even substitute the red wine with white wine or beer or cider. You can add some paprika and a few chili flakes if you want some extra heat. Stews are forgiving.

Here’s the sequence:

  1. Cut the meat into big chunks and brown it in a fry pan, sprinkling flour over each side. Add garlic, carrots and red wine, put the lot in a casserole dish and put it in the oven at 150⁰ for 45 minutes.
  2. Add the onions, speck, crushed tomatoes, capsicum and fennel plus some beef stock to cover everything, and put it back in the oven at 170⁰ for an hour and a half. Add seasoning to taste.
  3. With half an hour to go, brown the mushrooms in a fry pan with some butter and add them to the casserole, adjust the seasoning and add the herbs and shallots, and top the liquid up with water if need be.

When the time is up, the meat should fall off the bones, which you can take out or leave in for decoration. Just make sure you warn your guests. Serve with pasta, rice or potatoes, and remember: stews are always better on the second day sol cook it the night before you need it if you can.


Good luck


Easy Pork in cream, mushroom & mustard sauce


This is an old favourite with a few new tricks that make it more exciting. It’s an easy dish, but you need good concentration and timing for great results.

Feeds 2 – 4 depending on the quantity of pork, takes about 20 minutes



  • Pork fillet or tender pork loin (I prefer fillet cut into inch-thick slices)
  • 4 – 5 small spring onions or big shallots
  • Fennel bulb, with the outer layer discarded, finely sliced
  • Big handful of Swiss brown mushrooms, sliced
  • A glass of white wine or vegetable stock
  • Small tin of green peppercorns
  • Parsley, finely choppped
  • Tablespoon of Dijon Mustard or more. Use Australian if you prefer
  • 3-4 tablespoons of sour cream
  • Seasoning
  • Fennel seeds, Coriander

 The Process 

The easiest thing is to prepare everything beforehand, and then stir-fry the dish: cut up the pork, spring onions, fennel and mushrooms, and place on different plates. Heat a decent size fry pan and add some olive oil or butter a mix of both. The cooking should take just under 15 minutes on medium to high heat – turn it down a little once you add the liquid. Keep a watch or timer handy.

  • Add the spring onions and fennel to the fry pan
  • Add the pork and the peppercorns
  • Brown the pork on both sides
  • Add the mushrooms – you may need a bit more butter here
  • Fry for a couple of minutes
  • Add the wine, the mustard, seasoning, fennel seeds, coriander and wine/stock and parsley
  • Turn heat down to simmer, stir well for a few minutes, making sure all the ingredients are covered in sauce, add more liquid if need be but not too much since the cream is yet to come.

12 to 14 minutes should’ve elapsed since you began the stir fry, now add the sour cream and blend it into the dish on low heat; check taste and consistency and adjust, and you’re about ready to serve it with a pile of beans or rice, pasta or potato.


Roast chicken with lemon, thyme & roast vegetables

Yes it’s dead simple but it’s a dish fit for a king when you get it right.

The simpler the dish, the more important the ingredients. That’s because you’re not adding anything fancy, so it’s best to start with a quality chook and good fresh veggies. In Sydney, I go to a butcher called Hudsons who sells Banockburn chickens from Victoria, but any good quality free range chook will do. Hudsons sells chicken pieces such as Marylands and wings – that’s where the flavour is, so I buy a combination of these pieces and put them is a dish for roasting.

Chicken: Wash the pieces and put them on a baking tray (don’t forget to wash your hands as well after handling raw chicken). Drizzle a little olive oil over the pieces then squeeze some lemon juice over them, followed by a decent sprinkle of dried thyme, ground pepper and Vogel’s Herbamare salt. If you can’t get Herbamare, use another herbal salt. Bake the chicken at 375 degrees for 40 minutes, then turn it over and repeat the procedure. Put the veggies on first.


Veggies: Your choice really, but these are my favourites below. The first lot needs an hour and a half – again at 375 degrees:

  • 2 – 3 Onions – whole if small, or cut in half
  • 3 or 4 Carrots – cut into bite sized rounds
  • 3 – 4 Potatoes – bite sized wedges

The second tranche is softer and should be added 45 minutes later:

  • 1 Fennel bulb – cut in half
  • 1 Sweet potato – bite sized rounds
  • A quarter Pumpkin – big chunks
  • 1 – 2 Zucchini – bite sized rounds

A few pointers:

Make sure you drizzle enough olive oil on the veggies, and sprinkle some dried Rosemary over them. Turn the veggies over 2 or 3 times during the hour and a half, and keep in mind that you may need more olive oil.

That’s pretty much it. The final secret ingredient is a good Riesling about 2 or 3 years old so it’s developed a bit of flavour.


Dead Easy Slow-cooked Lamb Shoulder


Lamb shoulders are tough and full of gristle from elastin that won’t break down, but the flavour makes up for these shortcomings. It’s best to ask your butcher to semi-cut the shoulder into portions and score the fat before you take it home. That’s the hard part; the meal just about cooks itself.

Feeds 4 or more, takes 3.5 hours mostly in the oven, lasts for days in the fridge

Here’s what you need:

  • Lamb shoulder on the bone, about 1.5 kgs400g speck, cut into biggish cubes
  • 4-5 small or spring onions
  • Garlic to taste
  • 3 carrots, chopped into chunks
  • 2 zucchinis
  • Chopped green capsicum or sweet pepper
  • Handful of semi-sundried tomatoes
  • Tin of crushed tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 2-3 glasses of white wine
    500ml or more of chicken stock
  • Seasoning to taste
  • 2-3 bay leaves, twigs of fresh Rosemary, thyme, teaspoons of cumin seeds, lemon zest
  • Chopped shallots or spring onion tales
  • A bowl of spinach leaves chopped

Here’s the process:

  1. Roast the shoulder in a casserole dish with a little olive oil for an hour and a half at 125⁰. This will render some of the fat which you can discard.
  2. Now add the onions, garlic, carrots, capsicums, crushed tomatoes, tomato paste, white wine, chicken stock, bay leaves and seasoning. Turn the oven up to 160⁰ and cook for 2 hours.
  3. With 45 minutes to go, add the zucchinis and sun-dried tomatoes, add the herbs then adjust seasoning and liquid level.
  4. With 15 minutes to go, add the shallots and spinach leaves

This dish is like a pot roast, with some of the meat sticking out from the rest. From time to time, spoon some of the liquid over the meat to keep it moist. Add more stock or water if necessary. Serve with roast potatoes or pasta or on its own.

lamb shoulder

Photo source: the gourmet grocer