Crispy Chicken with Herb Sauce

My mother could make a chicken last three days, even though there were five of us in the family.

Roast on Sunday, curried or cold on Monday and soup on Tuesday. Nothing was wasted and the idea wasn’t to fill up on chicken, but on the accompaniments. There were always lots of roast vegetables with the Sunday roast, rice with the curry and herb dumplings and vegetables in the soup. Fortunately those days of austerity are gone.

I’m always looking for new ways to roast a whole chicken and this recipe, where you immerse it in brine overnight, caught my eye. It really does make a difference, resulting in very crispy skin and succulent meat. Serve it with roast potatoes and a green vegetable or salad. The sauce is delicious served with pretty much anything. Yes I know there’s only one lemon in the photo, but we were at the farm (45 minutes from the nearest shop) and I only had two and used one in the sauce!

Crispy Chicken with Herb Sauce

1 whole chicken, weighing about 1.8kg
3 lemons, cut in halves
Olive oil
Fresh herbs to garnish
3 Litres water
¾ cup salt
¾ cup sugar
1 tsp each coriander and cumin seeds
½ an onion peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs chopped fresh thyme or 2 tsp dried
Herb Sauce
A handful each parsley, coriander and mint leaves
A handful of baby spinach leaves
2 Tbs tahini
100ml extra virgin olive oil
Finely grated rind and juice 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place chicken on a chopping board, breast side down. Using poultry shears cut along one side of the backbone, then along the other side, remove and discard or keep for making stock. Turn chicken over and press hard on the breast bone to flatten it out.

Place all ingredients for brine in a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Cool then place chicken in the brine and refrigerate overnight, covered. Next day remove chicken from brine, pat dry with paper towels, then leave in the fridge on a plate, uncovered, for at least an hour and up to several hours, so the skin dries out. Discard the brine.

For the Herb sauce, place herbs and spinach leaves in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Drain, rinse under a cold tap, then squeeze out all the water, put into food processor with remaining ingredients and whiz till you have a thick green sauce.

Brush chicken and lemon halves all over with oil then place in a roasting pan and roast in a hot oven at 200°C or on a barbecue for about an hour, or until chicken is browned and crispy. Turn chicken and lemon halves over about halfway through cooking time.

When chicken is ready carve and arrange on serving platter with the lemon halves and some fresh herbs.

Serves 4

Sticky Ginger Cake

When staying in Newcastle with our daughter Catherine I offered to make a ginger cake. The recipe I’ve been making for decades uses ground ginger because fresh ginger wasn’t available back then. It came from my Dad’s cousin by marriage who was known as Auntie Vina.

Auntie Vina and Uncle Hector lived at Hill House, a busy dairy farm on the moors of County Durham, where I spent many summers as a child. The farm hands all came into the farmhouse for meals, so Auntie Vina and her daughter in law Little Mary spent a lot of time cooking. She taught me all her basic cake recipes, such as sponge cake, chocolate cake, ginger cake and fruit cake, which I still use today.

Times have changed and most recipes using ginger now call for the fresh kind. I decided to do some research online, looking for ginger cakes which use fresh ginger, or a combination of ground and fresh. I then adapted Auntie Vina’s recipe, using some of the new ideas I had found online. This is the result which we served as a dessert with Mangoes in Ginger Wine.

Sticky Ginger Cake

250g unsalted butter
½ cup water
¾ cup treacle (or molasses)
¾ cup golden syrup (or honey)
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
3 cups self-raising flour
½ tsp salt
3 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ cup milk
2-3 Tbs finely grated fresh ginger (to taste)

Preheat oven to 165°C. Butter and line a 22cm baking pan – round or square. I chose a ring tin – always a bit risky because being fluted you can’t line it, but fortunately the cake came out in one piece.

Place butter, water, treacle, golden syrup and brown sugar in a mixing bowl then heat in the microwave (covered to stop it spattering everywhere) for a minute or two until melted. Alternatively heat in a saucepan over moderate heat.

When cooled a bit, beat in the eggs with electric beaters or a hand whisk. Add the sifted flour, salt and spices, the milk and lastly fold in the fresh ginger. Scrape into cake tin and bake for 40-60 mins. Cooking times vary depending on your oven and the cake tin you use. If you overcook the cake it won’t be sticky, so as soon as the top is firm and springy to the touch it’s ready. Remove from the oven and when cool remove from the tin.

Serve as a dessert with whipped cream with a little rum or brandy added and some stewed fruit. Or serve with Mangoes in Ginger Wine as shown in the photo.

Or serve as a cake dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with lemon icing (1 cup sifted icing sugar mixed with 2 Tbs lemon juice).

Serves between 12 and 20 depending on serving size

Note: if you don’t have self-raising flour use plain flour and 2 tsp baking powder

Boris and the Barbecue

Early in our marriage we were posted to Israel where we lived in the leafy suburb of Herzliyah Pituach, on the outskirts of Tel Aviv. It was one of the few times in our lives that we didn’t have a dog, but our neighbours had a boxer called Boris. They travelled a lot and Boris got lonely, so he spent as much time at our house as he did at theirs. When he felt the need for company he’d just turn up and we were always pleased to see him. Well, almost always.

A Minister was visiting from Queensland with his wife and secretary, so we invited them to join us for a very informal barbecue lunch. Matthew headed off late Saturday morning to pick them up, wearing jeans and an open-neck shirt.

Our guests arrived dressed to kill in white linen suits or similar attire. We sat in the garden sipping a glass of wine while Matthew lit the barbecue. Within five minutes Boris had arrived, his little stubby tail wagging excitedly as he sniffed the air in anticipation of things to come. He could smell a barbecue from a mile off.

Boris was a friendly soul and his usual way of greeting new friends was to slobber his way along their knees. As Matthew tried to stop him and apologise Mrs Minister said through clenched teeth “It’s okay we don’t mind dogs.” Her face said differently as she studied the remains of Boris’s breakfast, now smeared all over her white pants.

Matthew poured more wine, everyone relaxed and we moved to the table for lunch – barbecued lamb cutlets and salad, followed by apple strudel. Boris was starting to be a pain, snuffling under the table looking for scraps. Matthew escorted him home twice, but he kept coming back. We decided to give him a couple of chop bones at the far end of the garden, to keep him quiet.

Suddenly the sound of Boris choking interrupted the conversation. Matthew leapt up, rolled up his sleeve and thrust his hand down the dog’s throat to retrieve the bone. Our guests looked on in horror.

You will be relieved to know that Boris survived the ordeal and went on to attend many more barbecues, although bones were strictly off the menu. In honour of our dearly departed four-legged friend here’s a barbecue recipe without bones. It was given to me by an Australian friend in Israel and is very simple but always a winner. The quantities are flexible – if you use more pork just add more soy sauce, garlic and ginger!

Candy’s Barbecued Pork Rashers Candy's Barbecued Pork Rashers

800g to 1 kg pork belly rashers/slices
1/3 cup soy sauce
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs grated or very finely chopped fresh ginger

If the pork slices have skin, remove it. If they’re very thick slices hammer them out a bit with a meat hammer. Mix soy sauce, garlic and ginger in a shallow dish. Add the pork and turn to coat thoroughly. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours or overnight. Cook for about 15 minutes or so on a hot barbecue, turning a couple of times, or until well cooked and crispy.

Serves 4

Beef Casserole with Spring Onion Mash

A good beef casserole accompanied by mashed potatoes to mop up the gravy is the sort of comfort food we all crave at times, especially as the weather gets cooler. These old-fashioned dishes take us back to our childhood and Mum’s cooking.

This casserole doesn’t contain any tomatoes or herbs, allowing the flavour from the mushrooms and the sherry to shine through. It can be made in the oven or in a slow cooker.

Beef Casserole with Spring Onion Mash

2 Tbs oil
1 kg lean stewing beef such as chuck steak
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150g speck or bacon cut into chunky pieces (lardons)
2 onions, peeled and chopped
3 carrots, peeled and cut into sticks
250g mushrooms, wiped and thickly sliced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 cups water (only 1 cup for Slow Cooker)
1 beef stock cube
2 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
½ cup dry sherry or red wine
Spring Onion Mash:
1 kg potatoes, peeled and cut into even-sized pieces
25g butter
¼ cup milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3-4 spring onions, thinly sliced (optional)
To serve:

Chopped fresh parsley

Trim beef and cut into 3cm cubes. Season. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a large frying pan and brown half the meat all over until nicely caramelised. Put beef into a heavy Le Creuset-type casserole with a lid or into a Slow Cooker. Repeat with remaining oil and beef. Add the lardons to the pan and cook, stirring until light brown. Add onions and cook for 3-4 mins stirring regularly, until starting to soften. Add carrots, mushrooms, garlic and a touch more oil if necessary and continue to cook for 3-4 mins. Tip vegetables into the casserole with the beef.

Add water, stock cube, Worcestershire sauce and sherry or wine. If using a casserole dish cover and cook at 150°C for two hours or until meat is tender and sauce has thickened up. If using a Slow Cooker use only one cup of water, cover and cook for 3-4 hours on High or until meat is tender and sauce has thickened.

Casserole will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days or you can eat half and freeze the rest. Reheat, check seasoning and serve garnished with chopped parsley and accompanied by Spring Onion Mash to mop up all the gravy.

Spring Onion Mash: cook potatoes in boiling salted water for 20 mins or until tender. Drain thoroughly then mash with a potato masher, adding the butter and milk. When smooth and creamy season with salt and pepper and fold in the spring onions if liked.

Serves 4-6

Warm Chickpea and Zucchini Salad

As I ate this salad I thought of my brother, who has been a vegan for the past few years. It’s one of the most delicious vegetarian dishes I’ve eaten in a long time.

If you’ve never tried frying canned chickpeas give it a try – it elevates them to a whole new level. Instead of the zucchini you could use broccoli, cauliflower, green beans or snow peas.

The recipe serves two as a light main course or four as a side dish, accompanied by grilled chicken or steak. It would also go well with barbecued lamb. To bulk up the salad to serve more people place a layer of rocket or other salad leaves, lightly dressed with vinaigrette over the base of the serving dish, then pile the salad on top.

Warm Chickpea and Zucchini Salad3 Tbs olive oil
3-4 zucchinis (courgettes) cut into 2cm chunks
1 can chick peas, rinsed, drained and dried with paper towel
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar (see note)
1 tsp coriander seeds
½ tsp cumin seeds
½ cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 handfuls chopped fresh mint
2 handfuls chopped fresh parsley
100g marinated goat’s cheese or feta cheese

Heat about half the oil in a frying pan and cook the zucchini, chick peas and garlic for 5-8 minutes or until softening and browning a bit. Add salt, pepper and the vinegar and continue to cook, stirring for a minute or so. Scrape out into a serving dish. In a mortar and pestle, crush the seeds. Wipe out the pan and add the remaining oil. Add the pepitas and the crushed seeds and cook, stirring for 2-3 minutes or until the pepitas are starting to change colour and the pan smells fragrant. Add to the zucchini in the serving dish and mix gently. Top with the herbs and cheese and serve while still warm.

Serves 2 as a light main course

Note: I used caramelised balsamic vinegar which is a bit sweeter

The Best Guacamole

Many years ago I tried a fabulous Guacamole at the house of a Mexican diplomat. It’s so long ago I can’t even remember her name, but she gave me the recipe and I’ve been making it ever since. I guess you’d expect a Mexican to know how to make Guacamole.

I had been making my own version for years, but this authentic recipe taught me a couple of tricks. Firstly, don’t puree the avocados – mash them roughly with a fork so they remain a bit chunky. Secondly, a dash of cumin powder works wonders, although if you don’t like cumin you can always leave it out. Another tip is not to use overripe avocados as the dip will discolour very quickly if you do.


2 large ripe but not overripe avocados, seeded and peeled
1 very small onion, grated (or ¼ medium onion)
½ clove garlic, crushed
2-3 tsp lime juice
2-3 tsp olive oil
2 Tbs chopped coriander
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp dried oregano
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded & diced (optional)
To serve:
Corn chips

Mash avocados roughly with a fork, then gently mix in remaining ingredients, except tomato. Cover with plastic wrap and chill. Fold in tomato just before serving. Garnish with extra chopped coriander or a few pieces of tomato and serve with corn chips.

Makes 1-2 cups

Note: instead of one large tomato use 3-4 baby ones (I used baby Roma). No need to peel, just remove seeds and dice.

Balsamic Roast Potatoes

A large bowl of roast potatoes is a good addition to a buffet table, even if everything else is cold. We have potatoes in the garden at the moment, so as I like to use what I have available I’ve been cooking a few of these versatile tubers lately.

I came across this recipe on and it’s a real winner. There’s no need to par-boil the potatoes or even peel them, so the preparation time is less than 10 minutes.

The original recipe calls for kipfler potatoes, but just use whatever you have. If you’re buying the potatoes get ones which say they’re good for baking/roasting.

Balsamic Roast Potatoes

1.5kg potatoes
500g French shallots, peeled, halved if big
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
1/3 cup olive oil
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
3-4 rosemary sprigs broken up
Salt and pepper to taste
Extra rosemary to garnish

Preheat oven to 180°C. There’s no need to peel the potatoes unless you prefer to do so. Just scrub them and cut them into even-sized pieces – about 3cm square – and place in a large bowl with remaining ingredients. Mix well then spread out in one layer on a shallow baking tray. Bake for about 50 mins, turning twice, or until crispy, golden and cooked through. Tip into serving bowl and garnish with sprigs of fresh rosemary.

Serves 8

Chocolate & Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries

I’ve always been a cheesecake fan, but I don’t like all cheesecakes, especially ones which are dry. This one is rich and creamy and not too sweet.

Chocolate, vanilla and raspberries go together extremely well, but if you prefer leave the cocoa powder out and just have a simple biscuit base. Vanilla paste is nicer than essence because it has the little black vanilla seeds in it.

Chocolate & Vanilla Cheesecake with Raspberries

170g plain sweet biscuits (digestives, Nice, any will do)
3 Tbs cocoa powder
¼ cup sugar
125g unsalted butter, melted
500g ricotta cheese
250g cream cheese at room temp
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence or paste
Finely grated rind one lemon
Pinch salt
2 cups sour cream
1 Tbs sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence or paste
500g frozen raspberries
1 Tbs sugar (or to taste)

Place biscuits in food processor and process to fine crumbs. Add cocoa and sugar and blitz for 30 secs. Meanwhile in a mixing bowl melt the butter in microwave. Add biscuit crumbs and mix well.

Preheat oven to 150°C. Butter or oil a 22cm springform pan. Press biscuit crumbs over the base and about three quarters up the sides of the pan. Use your hands to coat the sides and a small glass to press down the bottom – try to avoid it being too thick where the sides meet the bottom. Place in the fridge or freezer.

Rinse out food processor. Place all ingredients for filling in food processor and mix until smooth, stopping to scrape down sides and checking there aren’t any large lumps of cream cheese left. Scrape into the biscuit lined pan, then bake for 40-50 mins or until cheesecake is set around the edges but still a bit wobbly in the middle. Mix all ingredients for topping and spread over the top. Put back in the oven for 8-10 mins until just set, then remove and cool. Run a knife around the edge to loosen and  when cold refrigerate overnight, covered.

Serve cheesecake with the raspberries which have been left to thaw in a bowl with the sugar, then gently stirred.

Serves 12-16

Variations: use gingersnap biscuits instead of plain ones and omit cocoa. Serve with fresh or frozen berries such as raspberries, strawberries, blueberries or slices of fresh mango.

Pomegranate, Parsley and Risoni Salad

This salad comes from a Greek cook book called Taking you Home. I’ve tweaked the quantities a bit – the original recipe has 2 cups of risoni – but apart from that it’s pretty much the same.

Serve with roast lamb or chicken, grilled lamb chops, or as part of a buffet.

Pomegranate, Parsley and Risoni Salad

1 cup Risoni (rice-shaped pasta)
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
¼ cup slivered almonds
About 1 cup pomegranate kernels (see note below)
1 cup chopped parsley
10 cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 400g can lentils, drained and rinsed
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs lemon juice
100g feta cheese, crumbled
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook risoni in boiling salted water until al dente. Place pumpkin seeds and almonds in a dry frying pan and cook for a few minutes, stirring, until lightly toasted. Drain risoni and place in a bowl with remaining ingredients, saving some of the feta to put on top.

Serves 6

Note: remove seeds from 1 large pomegranate or buy fresh kernels, which I found in Costco in a three pack. I used one and froze the other two as they freeze well.

Pork Fillets with Crunchy Potatoes and Mango Salsa

Roast Pork with apple sauce is a marriage made in heaven, but pork also goes well with other fruit. This mango salsa can be made in a jiffy and goes well with pork or chicken. If preferred just serve it with some grilled or pan-fried pork chops. Instead of mango try using fresh peaches or nectarines.

I’m a bit old-fashioned when it comes to pork, because (unlike beef) I like it cooked until it’s no longer pink, as you can see in the photo.

Pork Fillets with Crunchy Potatoes and Mango Salsa

4 medium potatoes, peeled
1 large or 2 smaller pork fillets (about 600g total)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil to spray or drizzle
1 Tbs butter
1 mango, peeled and cut into small cubes
1 small red chilli, seeded and finely chopped
½ red onion, finely chopped
1 Tbs fresh coriander, chopped
1 Tbs white wine or cider vinegar
1 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
A green vegetable such as steamed asparagus

Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until almost cooked. Drain then place on a baking tray lined with foil. Spray or drizzle with olive oil on both sides, then squash them a bit with a potato masher. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Heat butter in a frying pan with a metal handle that can go in the oven. Season pork all over then brown on all sides in the butter. Place potatoes in the top of the oven and 10 minutes later place the pork on the shelf below. Cook pork for 10-15 mins, by which time the potatoes should be nice and crispy. After ten minutes pork will still be a bit pink in the middle (except at the very thin end) whereas by 15 mins it should be more medium.

Meanwhile cook the asparagus and make the Salsa. For the Salsa mix all ingredients in a small bowl.

Slice pork and serve on a bed of crispy potatoes garnished with the asparagus and the salsa.

Serves 4