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The Instant Cook (September 7, 2005)

We love Donna Hay for a lot of good reasons; she's clear and easy to understand, and while her recipes are often simple and sometimes seem understated, they are truly innovative and exciting! Her latest in a long line of bestsellers is The Instant Cook, and we were delighted to discover that yes, it really is.

Many of the recipes give a basic version with three or four variations; the grilled chicken and salad recipes below are typical. Each dish has its own small picture as well. Speaking of which, Hay's signature white-on-white minimalist pictures feature the food, not the props. Another Hay touch is eliminating the personal "blurb" before each recipe... do we really need to know that this is her granny's favourite fried fish dish?

As Hay says in her introduction, "time for most of us is a precious commodity, which is why, while we love a home cooked meal, we don't want to spend hours in the kitchen or market pulling one together." That's for sure, Donna!

The Instant Cook has gone right up there on our Alpha cookbook shelf, and that's where you'll put your copy too! It's a perfect book for seasoned cooks as well as those just starting out in their first kitchen. Meanwhile, we'll emulate Donna Hay and keep the comments down and the recipes up!

On today's menu:

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (93 KB)


Crispy Skin Fish with Lemon Salsa

(Helen and Ron say: This may not look as glam as other recipes, but it's an ab fab dish done in minutes.)

Serves 4

  • 8 × 180 g (6 oz) snapper, salmon or ocean trout fillets
  • Vegetable oil for brushing
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
    Lemon Salsa
  • 2 lemons, peeled and sliced
  • 1½ tbsp superfine sugar
  • ½ cup roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 2 Tbsp salted capers, rinsed
  • Sea salt and cracked b lack pepper

To make the lemon salsa, combine the lemons, sugar, parsley, capers, salt and pepper and set aside.

Brush the skin of the fish with the oil and sprinkle both sides with a little salt and pepper. Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat. Add the fish to the pan, skin side down and cook for 4 minutes or until the skin is crisp. Turn and cook for a further minute or until the fish is just cooked through. To serve, place the fish on plates and top with the lemon salsa. Serve with a simple green salad.

Tony's wine recommendation:
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Muscadet


Simple Rhubarb Tart

(Helen and Ron say: This has to be one of the fastest and easiest tarts we've ever tried. And, of course, wonderful with the fresh rhubarb!)

Serves 4

  • 8 thin or 4 halved thick stalks rhubarb
  • 2 Tbsp superfine sugar
  • 1 sheet ready-prepared puff pastry
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 Tbsp icing sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 200°C (390°F). Place the rhubarb on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Sprinkle with the sugar. Bake for 20 minutes or until soft, then allow to cool. Trim the edges of the pastry and place on a baking ray lined with baking paper. Place the ricotta, icing sugar and vanilla in a bowl and mix to combine. Spread the mixture over the pastry leaving a 1 cm (½ inch) border. Top with the cooked rhubarb and fold over the border edges to form a crust. Place in the oven and bake for 12–15 minutes or until the filling is set and the pastry is golden. Serve warm or cold.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Late Harvest Riesling, Riesling Icewine, Monbazillac, sweet Vouvray


Grilled Chicken and Vegetable Stacks

(Helen and Ron say: Faster than fast food here. The variations are all delicious, and creative and soooo easy!)

Serves 4

  • 4 chicken breast fillets, halved lengthwise
  • 2 red bell peppers, quartered
  • 1 eggplant, sliced lengthwise
  • 2 small zucchinis, sliced lengthwise
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • 80 g (3 oz) arugula (rocket) leaves
  • 1 Tbsp store bought pesto
  • ½ cup whole-egg mayonnaise

Preheat a broiler or barbecue over high heat. Place the chicken, peppers, eggplant, zucchinis, oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a bowl and toss to coat. Cook the chicken for 3–4 minutes on the grill or barbecue before adding the peppers, eggplant and zucchinis and cooking until the chicken is golden and cooked through and the vegetables tender. To serve, place the chicken, vegetables and arugula in a stack on plates and serve topped with the combined pesto and mayonnaise.

Variations... left to right:

  1. Vegetable: Replace the chicken with 16 asparagus spears and grill with the vegetables. When stacking the vegetables add 4 sliced bocconcini.
  2. Beef with aioli: Replace the chicken breasts with 8 thin beef steaks. Replace the eggplant and peppers with 2 thickly sliced tomatoes and 8 small field mushrooms. Replace the pesto with 1 clove crushed garlic.
  3. Pork with apple: Replace the chicken breasts with 8 thin pork steaks. Add 2 cored and sliced apples to the vegetables. Replace the pesto and mayonnaise with 1½ Tbsp Dijon mustard combined with ½ cup sour cream.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Tavel Rosé, white Burgundy, Ontario Chardonnay or chilled Beaujolais crus


Toasted Pine Nut and Sweet Potato Salad

(Helen says: I love sweet potatoes and was delighted to find this pretty and still healthy recipe!)

Serves 4

  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced lengthwise
  • 4 Roma tomatoes, halved
  • Olive oil
  • Sea salt and cracked black pepper
  • ½ cup pine nuts
  • 150 g (5 oz) baby spinach leaves
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 3 Tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F). Place the sweet potato and tomatoes in a baking dish lined with baking paper and toss with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake for 25 minutes or until the potato is golden and soft. Sprinkle over the pine nuts and bake for a further 2 minutes or until the pine nuts are golden. To make the dressing, whisk together the honey, vinegar and oil. To serve, place the spinach leaves and avocado on plates and top with the sweet potato, tomatoes and pine nuts. Pour over the dressing and serve.

Variations... left to right:

  1. Pumpkin and ricotta: Replace the sweet potato with 1 kg (2 lbs) pumpkin cut into wedges. Omit the avocado. Top the salad with 150 g (5 oz) crumbled ricotta to serve.
  2. Roast potato: Replace the sweet potato with 16 very small roasting potatoes such as jersey royals. Omit the tomatoes and avocado. Serve topped with 150 g (5 oz) sliced blue cheese.
  3. Eggplant: Replace the sweet potato with 6 halved baby eggplants. Omit the avocado. Replace the dressing with one made by combining ½ cup thick natural yoghurt, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, ½ cup chopped mint and ½ tsp ground cumin. Serve with grilled pita bread.

Tony's wine recommendation:
Pouilly-Fumé, Viognier, dry Vouvray, Franken Silvaner

We wish to thank HarperCollins publishing for permission to reprint recipes and photographs from The Instant Cook by Donna Hay.

The Instant Cook © Donna Hay 2004. Design © Donna Hay 2004. Photographs © Con Poulos 2004.


Happily tested by Helen Hatton and Ron Morris.

Download these recipes in printable form as an Adobe Acrobat PDF (93 KB)




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