Saturday, December 18, 2010

Christmas with Salmon Gravlax, Pate, Panforte and Salad!

Wow - I love Christmas, and it's mainly because of the great food and cooking. I've been laid up with the flu for the past week and a half and I've been unable to wield the wooden spoon. I can tell you it's like having my arms cut off. But I'm up early now to head out to the markets to source some good looking salmon for Gravlax. I love this dish, it's going to be available for grazing, to take up to my sister's place for the feast.

Each year when possible, we gather at my sister's house at Lake Macquarie and because there are so many of us this year, we have hired another house close by to fit our mob in. Daughters are gathering extras along the way (gorgeous partners), and this means our extended household is expanding each year. This also means more food!

Suz my sister is preparing rotisserie chickens for the feast and a roast pork with crackling and a baked glazed ham. Because we are travelling some 400kms I need to take things that can trasnsport well. So I have made my absolute standby - Panforte x 3, Chicken Liver Pate, Gravlax, Scottish Shortbread. I have bought loads of bacon, eggs, yoghurt, olives, nuts and blah! Salads will be comprised of asparagus, pea, parmesan in a light vinaigrette and probably my old standby, crunchy noodle salad - oh my god it's so easy!!

Photo by Steve Shanahan

¼ cup sugar
2tbsp coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon crushed black peppercorns
2.5kg salmon, filleted and deboned, but with skin left on
2 tbsp vodka or brandy (I use vodka)
4 tbsp very finely chopped dill

Mustard sauce
1 ½ tbsp cider vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
½ cup olive oil
2 tspn chopped dill
2 tbsp Dijon mustard

Combine the sugar, salt and peppercorns in a small dish. Remove any bones from the salmon with tweezers. Pat dry with paper towels and lay one fillet skin side down in a shallow tray or baking dish. Sprinkle with half the vodka or brandy, rub half the sugar mixture into the flesh, then sprinkle with half the dill. Sprinkle the remaining vodka over the second salmon fillet and rub the remaining sugar mixture into the flesh. Lay it flesh side down on top of the dill-coated salmon. Cover with plastic wrap and place a heavy board on top - weigh this down with 3 heavy cans or a foil-covered brick. Refrigerate for 24 hours, turning the salmon over after 12 hours.

To make the mustard sauce, whisk together the ingredients, then cover until needed.

When the salmon is ready, take off the weights and remove the plastic wrap. Lift off the top fillet and lay both fillets on a wooden board (traditional). Brush off all the dill and any seasoning mixture with a stiff pastry brush. Sprinkle with the remaining fresh dill and press it onto the salmon flesh, shaking off any excess. Serve the salmon whole on the serving board and thinly slice (use a very sharp knife with a long flexible blade) on an angle towards the tail. Serve with the mustard sauce and fresh baguette. Gravlax can be refrigerated, covered, for up to a week or it can be frozen.

Panforte (makes 2 cakes)

300g macadamia nuts or peanuts
200g whole hazelnuts
125g sun-dried pears, chopped
125g dried apricots, chopped
125g raisins
125g prunes, chopped
125g dried figs, chopped
½ cup brandy
2 cups plain flour
¼ cup Dutch cocoa
1 tbsp Dutch cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
300ml honey
1 ½ cups caster sugar

Preheat oven to 180C. Toast the nuts on separate baking trays until they are lightly golden. Remove and set aside. When cool enough to handle, rubs skins off the hazelnuts using a tea-towel.

Place all the nuts in a large mixing bowl, then add all the fruit. Sift in the flour, cocoa and spices. Toss well to combine making sure the fruit is coated. Pour over the brandy and mix through. This gets heavy now.

In a saucepan, heat the honey and sugar and bring to the boil. Simmer gently until it reaches soft ball stage (112c-116c). Pour the toffee liquid over the fruit and nut mixture and use a wooden spoon to combine. It will be very sticky, but use your muscles until all the flour is incorporated. Turn oven heat down to 150C.

Line 2 26cm spring pans with edible rice paper or baking paper, and grease the sides well with butter. Press the mixture into the bases. Dip your hands in water to make this easier. Put another layer of baking paper on top and press down. Bake for 40 minutes, I generally remove the paper 10 minutes before finished baking and then allow the top to cook a little.

Remove and leave to cool a little before easing out of the pan. Cut into thin wedges to serve, dusted with icing sugar. Store in an airtight container.

Chicken liver pate

Serves 6
15g butter
400g chicken livers, trimmed
½ an onion, chopped
5 fresh thyme leaves
2 tbsp Marsala
1 tbsp brandy
2 tbsp double cream, whipped
salt and pepper

Melt 100g butter in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely simmering water. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Melt the remaining butter in a frying pan. Add the chicken livers, onion and thyme and cook over a medium heat, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes. Sprinkle with the Marsala, season with salt and pepper and cook for 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, chop the chicken livers and place in a bowl. Stir in the cooled melted butter, then add the brandy and fold in the cream. Chill in the fridge for 6 hours before serving.


1 large Romaine lettuce
big bunch of asparagus
500g peas (shelled)
200g beans
2 ripe avocados

1 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
8 tbsp olive oil
herbs - basil, thyme, mint, parsley, chives
sea salt and ground black pepper

Wash and drain lettuce leaves. To make vinaigrette, put the mustard into a small bowl, add the vinegar and oil and whisk together. Add the chopped herbs and season to taste.

Bring a pan of water to the boil and cook beans for 2 minutes and remove and place in icy cold water. Cook the asparagus in the same water, for another 2 minutes, removing and adding to the ice water. Do peas the same way, except cooking for only 1 minute. You can also use the peas raw if you want.

Drain vegetables in a colander, while you prepare the avocados. Remove the skin and stone and slice into quarters, then crossways.

Combine all ingredients and at the last minute, dress the salad.