TV presenter and author Emmylou MacCarthy knows the importance of cooking simple, nourishing food for people you love.
Her new cookbook, Confidence in the Kitchen, includes family-friendly essentials, weeknight meals and easy recipes for time-poor and beginner cooks, many of them inspired by MacCarthy's Vietnamese heritage and featuring shop-bought ingredients.
Here, she shares four easy finger-food recipes great for small gatherings this summer.
Duck bao buns with pork crackle and Asian slaw
Everyone thinks bao buns are super fancy and mysterious and that you either have to make them from scratch or order them from a restaurant. Not true! They're readily available in the freezer section of most Asian supermarkets. Just chuck them in your steamer for 5-10 minutes and they're ready. This recipe is all about achieving authentic flavours using shop-bought ingredients. You can cook the duck legs yourself, but pre-cooked confit duck legs are readily available these days and they make this dish even easier.
- 1 sheet pork skin (from your butcher or supermarket)
- sea salt
- 2 tablespoons char siu sauce
- 2 shop-bought confit duck legs
- 6 shop-bought bao buns
- ¼ white cabbage, shredded
- ¼ purple cabbage, shredded
- 2 spring onions, thinly sliced
- 1 carrot, grated
- ¼ red onion, thinly sliced
- good dollop of Japanese mayonnaise (Kewpie)
- 3 tablespoons chopped mint leaves
- 3 tablespoons chopped coriander leaves
- Preheat the oven to 200 fan-forced (220C conventional).
- First, get the pork crackle out of the way. Pat the pork skin dry with paper towel, then score it in a criss-cross pattern and place it on a shallow baking tray with a lip. (You don't want the sides of the tray to be too high but you also don't want it to be without a lip, otherwise the oil from the crackle will drip all over your oven.) Pour a motherload of salt on the skin (don't worry – you will dust it off when it's done) and put it in the oven. It should take 20-30 minutes to get it up to full crackle.
- When it's ready, dust off the salt and chop the crackle into rough, bite-sized pieces.
- Reduce the oven temperature to 180 fan-forced (200C conventional).
- Smear the char siu sauce over the duck legs and place them on a baking tray. Cook in the oven for 15 minutes or until the duck legs are heated through and the skin is looking shiny and plump. Remove and let them cool slightly, then shred the meat off the bone.
- Meanwhile, steam the bao buns according to the packet instructions.
- Mix all the Asian slaw ingredients in a bowl and you are ready to go. Open up the bao buns and assemble in this order: Asian slaw, shredded duck and finally a piece of crackle. Yum!
Real crowd-pleasing snacks. Photo: Mark Roper/Plum
Moo ping pork skewers
The scent of this aromatic marinade always takes me straight back to Thailand. I can instantly recall the people, colours, noises, smells and, of course, the incredible food. This is one of my favourite Thai dishes, and I love the way the pork melts in your mouth. These skewers are a real crowd pleaser, especially in summer when the barbecue is always firing.
- 500g pork shoulder, cut into thin strips (see tip)
- Thai basil leaves, to serve
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, finely chopped
- pinch of sea salt
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped coriander stalks
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 80ml (⅓ cup) coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons grated palm sugar
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- To make the marinade, place the garlic, lemongrass and salt in a mortar and pound with the pestle to create a paste. Combine with the remaining ingredients in a bowl.
- Put the pork in a glass or ceramic dish, pour over the marinade and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least couple of hours (overnight is better).
- About 30 minutes before you are ready to start cooking, soak 16 small wooden skewers in water to stop them burning during cooking.
- Thread the pork onto the soaked skewers.
- Heat a chargrill pan over medium-high heat or a barbecue grill plate to medium-hot. Place the skewers in the pan or on the barbecue and sear for 1 minute on each side, then reduce the heat to low and cook, turning often, for about 10 minutes or until cooked through. You want the fat in the pork to melt and become buttery.
- Scatter over some Thai basil leaves.
Tip Make life easy and pop the pork in the freezer for 30 minutes before cutting. The knife will glide through, allowing you to cut nice even strips of meat. For a more authentic flavour, you can try cooking these skewers over coals.
Brilliant for relaxed entertaining. Photo: Mark Roper/Plum
Middle Eastern sausage rolls
These sausage rolls are spicy little mofos, so if you're not really into a lot of spice, either halve the quantity of harissa or leave it out altogether. They are brilliant for relaxed entertaining and come together incredibly quickly. This mixture makes a lot – 72 sausage rolls to be precise. So, if you're short on time, halve the ingredients and make 36 or use the remaining mixture to make mini meatballs (see tip).
- 1kg lamb mince
- 1 onion, finely grated
- 2 garlic cloves, crushed
- 2-3 tablespoons harissa, or to taste
- 60g (⅓ cup) dried apricots, finely chopped
- 60g (½ cup) slivered almonds
- large handful of coriander leaves, finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 teaspoons ground coriander
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- sea salt and freshly ground
- black pepper
- 6 frozen puff pastry sheets, slightly thawed and cut in half
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- Preheat the oven to 180 fan-forced (200C conventional) and line two baking trays with baking paper.
- Place the lamb, onion, garlic, harissa, apricots, almonds, coriander leaves and ground spices in a large bowl and combine. Season with a little salt and pepper.
- Divide the lamb mixture into 12 equal portions. Place one portion evenly along the longest edge of a pastry sheet, shaping it with a spoon or your fingers. Roll the pastry over to enclose the filling, then brush a little egg along the pastry edge and press to seal. Trim off the excess pastry and repeat with the remaining filling and pastry to make 12 logs.
- Brush the logs with egg, scatter with sesame seeds and cut each one into six sausage rolls. Place on the prepared trays and bake for 15-20 minutes or until golden. Serve immediately.
Tip You can store uncooked sausage rolls in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 1 month. Preheat the oven to 180 fan-forced (200C conventional) and bake them straight from the freezer for 25-30 minutes or until cooked through. If you've made the mince mixture but can't be bothered to turn it all into sausage rolls, simply form them into golf ball-sized balls to make Middle Eastern meatballs for tapas. Cook in olive oil over medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes or until cooked through.
Sweet spin on finger food. Photo: Mark Roper/Plum
Chocolate cheesecake brownies
It's no secret that every market day you can find me down at the South Melbourne Market with a coffee in hand. If you've seen my Insta stories, you'll know I always head to Canteen to see what Brad's got on offer. Some people window shop and drool over shoes. I window shop and drool over Brad's food, so he was generous enough to share this delicious recipe for his chocolate cheesecake brownies. Enjoy!
- 400g dark chocolate, broken into pieces
- 325g unsalted butter, roughly chopped
- 6 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
- 300g caster sugar
- 80g cocoa powder
- 120g plain flour
- pinch of sea salt
- 900g cream cheese, softened
- 3 eggs
- 150g caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- Preheat the oven to 150 fan-forced (170C conventional). Line a 20 x 30cm baking tin with baking paper, making sure the paper hangs over the edges of the tin. This will help you lift out the brownies when they're cooked.
- Melt the chocolate and butter in a saucepan over low heat and mix until smooth. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cooled chocolate mixture, cocoa, flour and salt and mix to combine. Set aside.
- To make the cheesecake topping, place all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix until smooth and sexy.
- Pour the brownie mixture into the prepared tin and spread it out evenly, then pour the cheesecake mixture on top and smooth the surface.
- Bake for 50 minutes or until just set. It should be ever so slightly wobbly in the middle, but it will finish setting as it cools. Set aside in the fridge to chill until completely set.
- Cut the cheesecake into 24 slices (it's very rich, so a little goes a long way) and enjoy.
- The brownies will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 days.
Makes 24 pieces