Bruschetta at Nico Osteria in Chicago

Cindy is a flight attendant with United Airlines and we met through mutual friends when we were all living in Paris, some 15 years ago. After a few years working out of Paris she moved back to Chicago and has been asking us to visit ever since.

At last we made it. On a balmy evening in September we walked out of the arrivals hall at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and there was Cindy, waving furiously from her open-top vintage BMW. With our luggage squashed into the boot and half of the back seat we set off on a Chicago-by-night city tour, on our way to Cindy’s centrally-located apartment.

Cindy has been just about everywhere and I don’t only just mean United Airlines destinations. I mean from Anchorage to Timbuktu. When she visits a city she leaves no stone unturned. Tuesdays the museums are free, she said, so the morning after we arrived we crossed the Museum of Contemporary Art off the long list of things we had to fit into our six days in Chicago.

What a fabulous city. Wonderful architecture, a great public transport system and lots of free concerts and shows. Cultural highlights included a free two and a half hour concert of operatic arias in Millennium Park, with a full orchestra and choir. And a free lunchtime piano and violin concert at the Chicago Cultural Centre, an amazing Art Deco building which we toured afterwards. Cindy had acquired free passes for me to join her pilates classes at the exclusive East Bank Club, which enjoyed the patronage of Obama and Oprah when they lived in Chicago. And if one of the bars was serving free cocktails you can be sure that Cindy knew about it.


Culinary highlights included a lobster sandwich at the French Markets – simple but so good – a delicious lunch from one of the many restaurants at Eataly, dinner at Nico Osteria and the $25 three course lunch at one of Nico Osteria’s sister restaurant Blackbird.

At Nico Osteria we sat on bar stools looking into the kitchen and, by asking a few culinary questions, soon built up a rapport with the sous chef. The head chef, meticulously checking each dish before it left the kitchen, Gordon Ramsey-style, decided we were foodies and sent out some extra dishes for us to try. Baskets of colourful tomatoes, large and small adorned the bustling kitchen. They were at the tail end of a tomato-inspired menu, the chef explained, and in three days everything would change.

We decided to share some bruschetta and they were all delicious. Today’s recipe is inspired by Nico Osteria’s Bruschetta with Chicken Liver Mousse, Marinated Onion and Lemon Honey. Instead of the Lemon Honey I used Tomato Baharat Jam, which goes so well with all kinds of pâté. Their chicken liver mousse had a bit of a kick, but I decided not to add chilli to mine.

The following day we had lunch at Blackbird and told the Maitre d’ that their set price menu had been highly recommended by the chef at Nico Osteria. Say no more – we were treated like family, with complimentary champagne and an amazing Lyonnaise-type salad, served in a crispy potato basket with a soft-poached egg on top arriving before our three course meal.

If you’ve never been to Chicago I suggest you put it on your list.



Bruschetta with Chicken Liver Pâté, Marinated Onion and Tomato Baharat Jam

Chicken liver pâté (see recipe)
Tomato Baharat Jam (see recipe)
1 onion, halved then very thinly sliced
2 Tbs white wine vinegar or white balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs hot water
2 tsp honey
Pinch of salt
1 baguette (French loaf)
Extra Virgin olive oil
1 large clove garlic, crushed
A few halved cocktail tomatoes
A few rocket leaves

Make the pâté and tomato jam – the day before serving if you like. Mix onion with vinegar, honey, hot water and salt and leave to marinate.

To serve, cut baguette in half horizontally, then cut into serving sizes about 10-12cm long. You should get 6 or 8 from a loaf. Discard the very ends of the loaf. Mix olive oil with garlic, brush over both sides of the bread then toast till golden on a griddle pan.

Arrange toasted baguette on serving plates. Spread each one liberally with chicken liver pâté then garnish with marinated onion (drained and dried with paper towels) and Tomato Baharat Jam. Finish with some lightly dressed baby tomato halves and rocket leaves.

Makes 6-8 bruschetta

Bryony’s Beetroot Coleslaw

Bryony Hill came to our wedding, so we go back a long way. She lives in England in the county of Sussex where she writes, cooks, grows vegetables and keeps chickens. Bryony has written several books on subjects such as gardening, cooking and dogs and recently published My Gentleman Jim about her late husband Jimmy Hill, the famous and much-loved British football commentator.

Bryony recently posted her recipe for Beetroot Coleslaw on Facebook. I’m a big fan of beetroot, especially when it’s raw, so I made a note to make it as soon as we got back from our recent travels.

It goes very well with grilled or barbecued meats, keeps for a couple of days in the fridge and makes a great filler for sandwiches or wraps.

Of course the beetroot turns everything pink so I did consider renaming it Bryony’s Pink Slaw.


3-4 beetroots, peeled
1 Lebanese cucumber
3 spring onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal
1 bulb fennel
1 kohlrabi
2-3 carrots, peeled
A handful of radishes
2 stalks celery
¼ cup light mayonnaise (preferably home-made)
¼ cup plain Greek yoghurt
Juice of ½ to 1 lemon, to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Coarsely grate, thinly slice or shred all the vegetables and place in a large bowl. I used a large (5mm) grating disc on my Magimix for the beetroots and carrots, then the thin slicing disc for everything else. I thinly sliced the cucumber, then cut the slices in half.

Add mayonnaise, yoghurt, lemon juice and seasoning to taste. Add a bit more mayonnaise or yoghurt if necessary.

If you’re missing any of the vegetables (I didn’t have any kohlrabi) just leave it out or substitute something else such as white or red cabbage.

Serves 4-6

Modern Greek Food at Petros

While travelling in the USA last month we had some fabulous meals. Unfortunately large portions, fries with everything and Tex Mex “liquid cholesterol” are still very much in evidence, but we did our best to avoid these establishments and seek out the healthier options.

On our way home we spent three days at Manhattan Beach, just outside Los Angeles, where there are lots of good restaurants. Petros Restaurant serves an interesting selection of modern Greek dishes and was one of the highlights.

For a light lunch we ordered Fried Calamari, Feta Saganaki (sesame-crusted feta with raisins and honey) and Karpouzi Salad (watermelon, tomatoes, mint, feta, honey and extra virgin olive oil).

I decided to recreate two of these dishes at home. Petros uses Greek olive oil, honey, feta and raisins, but use whatever you have. If you don’t like things too sweet cut back on the honey.

Modern Greek Food at Petros

Feta Saganaki
About 150g feta cheese
1-2 Tbs plain flour
1 egg, beaten
About ½ cup sesame seeds
1 Tbs olive oil
1-2 Tbs honey
1-2 Tbs raisins

Cut feta cheese into two rectangles about 1cm thick. Coat lightly in flour, then dip in beaten egg and coat with sesame seeds. Heat olive oil in a small non-stick frying pan and fry the feta on both sides until golden. Arrange in serving dish. Place the honey and raisins in a small dish and microwave for about 30 seconds, then pour over the feta. If liked squeeze over some fresh lemon  juice.

Serves 2

Karpouzi Salad

Karpouzi Salad
About 800g seedless watermelon, cut into cubes
10 cocktail tomatoes, halved
1 Tbs finely chopped mint

2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs honey
1 Tbs lemon juice
pinch of salt

Arrange watermelon and tomatoes in serving dish. Place ingredients for dressing in a jar with a lid and shake well. Drizzle over the salad and sprinkle with mint.

Serves 2

Variation: crumble some feta cheese over the top

Braised Pork Meatballs

With a packet of mince in the freezer and some canned tomatoes and pasta in the pantry you can make any number of delicious meals without going shopping – spaghetti bolognese, lasagne, meatloaf or meatballs to name a few.

Saw this recipe in an old Delicious magazine and got all nostalgic for a time when I used to make meatballs a lot, when we had kids at home. And it was indeed delicious.

Braised Pork Meatballs

1 kg pork mince
¼ cup sultanas, roughly chopped
¼ cup toasted pine nuts, roughly chopped
2 Tbs grated parmesan, plus extra to serve
1 Tbs roughly chopped fresh marjoram leaves
Pinch nutmeg
Finely grated rind 1 lemon
½ cup breadcrumbs (using day old bread)
1 egg white
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2-3 tsp sugar
¼ cup olive oil
1¼ cups chicken stock
2 cans (400g) chopped tomatoes
250g cherry tomatoes
2 bay leaves
Juice of 1 lemon
Steamed green vegetable, such as beans, peas, broccoli
Cooked pasta

Mix all ingredients for meatballs and form into about 16 meatballs with wet hands. Place on a plate and chill for about 30 mins.

Heat half the oil in a deep frying pan and cook half the meatballs on all sides or until they are nicely browned, then remove. Repeat with remaining meatballs. Tip off excess oil. Place stock in the pan with the canned and cherry tomatoes and simmer for a few mins. Return meatballs to pan with bay leaves, cover and cook for 20-25 mins or until meatballs are cooked through. From time to time spoon sauce over the meatballs and add a bit of water if it’s getting too thick. Stir in the lemon juice, top with extra parmesan and serve with a green vegetable and some pasta.

Serves 6

Mid-week Wraps

This is a delicious way to serve minced beef for a mid-week family dinner. Incorporating lots of healthy vegetables, it looks very colourful arranged on a large platter, so everyone can help themselves. Serve in wraps or tortillas, or accompanied by Indian roti or pita breads.

Add some chopped fresh chillies to the sauce if you want to liven it up a bit, but it’s more likely to appeal to small kids without. To keep everyone happy serve the chilli in a small dish, so people can add their own.


2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise using a mandoline
About 4 Tbs olive oil
1 onion finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red capsicum (pepper), finely chopped
1 eggplant, finely chopped
500g minced beef
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground chilli
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp paprika
400g can chopped tomatoes
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 beef or vegetable stock cube
2 cups water
Salt and pepper to taste
To garnish:
Baby tomatoes, halved (optional)
Coriander leaves
2 avocados, halved

½ cup coconut cream or sour cream
Juice of 1 lime or ½ lemon
Salt to taste

Pre-heat oven to 150°C. Place sweet potato slices in a single layer on 2-3 baking trays lined with baking paper and brush on both sides with oil. Bake for an hour or more, turning them over and swapping the trays round from time to time, so they cook evenly. Remove from the oven when they are crisp.

Heat 1 Tbs oil in a large frying pan over moderate heat. Cook onion, garlic and capsicum until soft then remove from pan. Add another 1 Tbs oil to the pan, increase heat and cook the eggplant until golden, then remove from pan. Add mince and spices and cook stirring until meat is browned. Return the fried vegetables to the pan with the tinned tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, water and stock cube. Simmer for 15 mins or until thick. Season to taste.

For the sauce mix all ingredients together. Arrange sweet potato chips around the edge of a serving platter and tip the beef in the middle. Nestle the avocado halves and a small dish containing the sauce in the mince. Garnish with the baby tomatoes (there are none in the photo because I had run out), coriander and a shake of paprika.

Serves 4


Roast Sweet Potatoes, Pears and Chick Peas with Prosciutto

Regular Café Cat readers will know that I’m a great fan of roast vegetables and love trying new combinations. This dish using sweet potatoes and pears, combined with chick peas and topped with crispy prosciutto is a real winner.

Roast Sweet Potatoes, Pears and Chick Peas with Prosciutto

1 large or two smaller sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large thick wedges
3 large pears, unpeeled and cut into six or eight, lengthwise then cored
1 can chick peas, rinsed and drained
About ¼ cup olive oil
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper
100g thinly sliced prosciutto (I used Aldi Black Forest Ham)

Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Place all ingredients except prosciutto in a large bowl and mix well. Line a large shallow baking tray with baking paper then spread the vegetables over the tray in one layer. The paper is to make washing up easier but is optional. Bake vegetables for about half an hour or until cooked and starting to brown around the edges. Re-arrange them halfway through cooking time, so they cook more evenly.

In a non-stick frying pan put a tiny bit of oil then cook the prosciutto until crispy. Serve on top of the vegetables.

Serves 3-4

Variations: use pumpkin instead of sweet potato, apples instead of pears, thinly sliced bacon instead of Prosciutto. To make the dish more substantial serve it on a bed of lightly dressed rocket and scatter some crumbled feta or goat’s cheese over the top. Vegetarians can just leave out the prosciutto.

Mushroom Tarte Tatin

The French are famous for an upside down apple tart called Tarte Tatin. Apples are cooked with sugar and butter in an oven proof frying pan, topped with puff pastry, baked in a hot oven, then inverted onto a serving plate, so the apples are on top and the pastry is underneath.

This is a mushroom version. As you can see in the photo, I only had ordinary button mushrooms in the fridge. It would be even nicer with a few exotic ones thrown into the mix, but it was still scrumptious.

Use bought puff pastry or Nigella’s quick food processor version as I did. Serve with a lightly dressed rocket salad.

40g butter
1 Tbs olive oil
500g sliced mushrooms (preferably a few different kinds)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2-3 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed (or Nigella’s quick version)
To serve:
Chopped fresh parsley or thyme
Crème fraîche or sour cream
Rocket salad

FullSizeRender (1)Pre-heat oven to 200°C. Thaw pastry if frozen or make Nigella’s..

Heat butter and oil in a 20-25cm non-stick ovenproof frying pan. Make sure the handle is ovenproof too.  Add mushrooms and cook, stirring for 5 minutes until softened. Add garlic, thyme and seasoning and continue to cook for 5-8 minutes, stirring often, until mushrooms are golden and liquid has been absorbed.

Roll out pastry thinly if you are not using a ready-rolled version. Cut out a circle a bit bigger than the circumference of the frying pan. Place pastry on top and tuck the edges in all the way around. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Cool for a few minutes then invert onto serving plate.

Serve warm or at room temperature garnished with fresh herbs, a dollop of crème fraîche and a rocket salad.

Serves 6

Barbecued Baby Octopus

Whenever I serve baby octopus I think of my dearly departed Dad.


His name was Kenneth but in the family he was always known as Kenf. For someone brought up on a very traditional British diet Kenf was quite adventurous when it came to eating. He loved Chinese food and spicy curries. In fact he pretty much ate anything you put in front of him.

My parents came over from the UK to visit us in Paris and I decided to serve baby octopus. As we finished our meal I glanced up and although he didn’t say anything I could tell that he wasn’t impressed.

“What do you think?” I enquired. “Well if you really want to know” he replied “I thought it was like eating Dunlop rubber”.

Maybe they were a bit chewy, but I didn’t think they were that bad! Since then I’ve found this recipe which isn’t chewy (thanks to the red wine) and I often wonder if it would have met with Kenf’s approval.

If you like things spicy you add a bit of finely chopped fresh chilli.


1 kg baby octopus (fresh or frozen)
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
250ml (1 cup) red wine
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs sweet chilli sauce
1 Tbs tomato sauce (ketchup)
1 Tbs olive oil
To serve:
Chopped fresh coriander
Olive oil

If using fresh octopus clean thoroughly, rinse and drain well. If using frozen octopus thaw, rinse and drain.

Place balsamic vinegar and wine in a saucepan with the octopus. Bring to the boil then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 20 mins. Drain, discard the wine and place octopus in a bowl with the soy, chilli sauce, tomato sauce and olive oil. Stir to combine.

Heat BBQ to high and cook the octopus for 5-6 mins, turning occasionally, until lightly charred and crispy on the edges. Serve on a bed of rocket or with steamed rice, garnished with coriander and a drizzle of oil.

Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a starter

Chicken with Apricots and Sweet Potatoes

This easy recipe is perfect for a mid-week family dinner.



1 kg skinless boneless chicken thighs
2 Tbs olive oil
2 medium onions, finely slice
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs grated ginger
1 tsp each ground cumin, paprika and cinnamon
¼ cup fruit chutney such as mango or tomato
½ cup dried apricots, halved if large
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into wedges
1½ cups chicken stock
1 can chopped tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
To serve:
Chopped fresh coriander

Trim chicken and cut into 2-3cm chunks. In a large deep frying pan heat oil and cook the onions and garlic over medium heat, stirring often, until soft but not brown. Add the ginger and spices and cook for another 1-2 minutes, stirring. Add chutney, dried apricots, sweet potato, chicken stock and tinned tomatoes. Cover, lower the heat and simmer, stirring often for 20-30 minutes or until chicken is tender.

Sprinkle with coriander and serve with couscous.

Serves 4-6

Curried Eggs

I like eggs cooked any way at all – boiled, scrambled, poached, coddled or in an omelette or frittata.

Many years ago when we were living in Malaysia we were served some delicious curried eggs. The memory has stuck in my mind, so I decided to recreate this quick, easy and delicious dish. If there are just two of you the quantities are easy to halve.

Curried Eggs

8 hardboiled eggs, cut in half
3 Tbs oil
2 onions,finely sliced or chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs of your favourite curry paste (more if you like things spicy)
2-3 tsp sugar
1 tsp turmeric
1 can coconut milk
1 can water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To serve:
Chopped fresh coriander or parsley
Steamed rice
Fruit chutney
Indian bread such as chapatis, roti or papadums

You want the eggs to be hardboiled, but don’t overcook them or they won’t be nice and creamy. About 12 minutes should be perfect.

In a large frying pan cook onion and garlic in the oil until soft, without browning. Add curry paste, sugar and turmeric and cook, stirring for a minute or so. Add coconut milk and water and simmer until liquid has reduced and sauce is slightly thickened. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the hardboiled egg halves, cut side up and let them warm through. Garnish with coriander or parsley and serve with rice, Indian bread and chutney.

Serves 4