Easy Chicken with Pesto

Jamie Oliver has a lot of recipes where you arrange all the ingredients in a shallow baking tray, stick it in the oven and Bob’s your Uncle. He calls them tray bakes.

This recipe was inspired by that idea and by the fact that I still have quite a bit of pesto which I froze in ice cube trays last summer. I want to use it before summer starts and the fresh basil in the garden is ready to use. Frozen pesto is useful in winter to spread on pizza bases (instead of tomato), to mix into pasta dishes or to garnish soups

This recipe really is easy, quick and delicious. The first photo shows the dish ready to go in the oven and the second one ready to serve.

1 kg boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 cup baby tomatoes
½ to 1 cup pitted olives, black or green
About 10 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
½ to ¾ cup pesto (home made or bought)
125g creamy goat’s cheese or feta
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra Virgin olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Trim chicken thighs and cut them in half. Arrange in one layer in a shallow baking dish tin. Arrange the tomatoes, olives and garlic evenly, tucking them in between the chicken pieces. Put blobs of pesto and small chunks of cheese evenly over the dish, season with salt and pepper, add a few small sprigs of fresh thyme (if available) and drizzle with some olive oil. Bake for 45 minutes, turning chicken over halfway through the cooking time.

Serve with couscous, rice, mashed potatoes or crusty bread, to soak up the juices and a mixed salad.

Serves 4

Variations: use chicken drumsticks or thighs with bones and skin.

Baked Eggplant with Hummus, Lentils and Pine Nuts

We eat a vegetarian dinner at least once a week. Our favourite vegetable is eggplant – it’s very filling and leftovers are always good for lunch.

Many eggplant recipes include tomato and cheese, so this one’s a bit different. I used a can of lentils to speed things up. If you prefer to use dry lentils you will need to add more stock and cook it for longer. The lentils will be ready at about the same time as the eggplant comes out of the oven, so everything will be hot and you can serve the dish straight away. If one or the other has got a bit cold, just put the dish in the oven to heat through, before topping with the hummus, herbs and nuts.

If you’re making your own hummus half the recipe (one drained can chickpeas) is more than enough.

For the eggplant:
2 large eggplants
4 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh rosemary sprigs
For the lentils:
2 Tbs olive oil
1 cup diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1 large onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 can lentils, drained and rinsed
2 cups vegetable stock
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
To serve:
¼ cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Hummus (preferably homemade)
Chopped fresh coriander or parsley
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

Preheat oven to 200°C. Line a baking tray with baking paper or foil. Cut eggplants in half horizontally. Lay them on the tray then score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern with a sharp knife. Brush all over with the olive oil, going back over so you use it all.  Season and sprinkle with the rosemary. Bake for 25-35 mins or until tender and slightly charred. Discard the rosemary.

While eggplant are baking, heat oil in a large frying pan. Add carrots, celery, onion and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until softened but not brown. Add the lentils and stock, then simmer until thick. Add the balsamic vinegar and check seasoning.

Spread mixture in a shallow baking dish and arrange the eggplant halves on top. If necessary put the dish into the oven to heat through.

Taste the hummus and, if necessary, add a bit more lemon juice and/or crushed garlic to give it a bit more zing and make it less thick. Serve the eggplant drizzled with hummus and sprinkled with the pine nuts and fresh herbs. If liked drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil.

Serves 4

Variations: use a drained can of chickpeas or kidney beans instead of lentils. Add a can of chopped tomatoes when adding the stock.

Reuben Sandwich

Fermented food is really good for maintaining healthy gut bacteria.

I have just made my first batch of sauerkraut and as it’s an integral ingredient in the famous American Reuben Sandwich I decided it was a good way to try it.  The origins of this sandwich are not entirely clear, but according to one version, a man called Reuben Kulakofsky ordered a corned beef and sauerkraut sandwich in a hotel in Omaha USA in 1928. A young chef by the name of Bernard Schimmel came up with the rest. So I guess it should have been called a Schimmel sandwich!

If you don’t have Thousand Island dressing and can’t be bothered to make it, mix two parts mayonnaise with one part tomato ketchup and add a dash of Tabasco or Worcestershire Sauce to give it a bit of bite. The photo shows two sandwich halves stacked one on top of the other.

Corned Beef (or Pastrami), sliced
Swiss cheese, sliced
Light Rye Bread, sliced
Sauerkraut, rinsed and well drained (bought or home-made)
Thousand Island Dressing, bought or home-made (see below)
Butter
To serve:
Dill pickles
Radishes
Potato crisps/chips

Make sandwiches using rye bread spread with Thousand Island Dressing, filled with generous amounts of corned beef or pastrami, Swiss cheese and sauerkraut, then topped with a second slice of bread.

Butter the outsides of both slices of bread and cook in a sandwich press until nicely toasted. You can also cook them in a frying pan, with a weight to flatten them down a bit, but a sandwich press is the best solution and a worthwhile investment if you’re a fan of toasted sandwiches.

Cut the sandwiches in half and garnish with dill pickles, radishes and potato crisps.

Thousand Island Dressing
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup tomato ketchup
1 slice onion
1 slice red or green capsicum
A few celery leaves or half a stick
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbs parsley
1 hard boiled egg
¼ cup fruit chutney or pickle relish
few drops Tabasco

Place mayonnaise, ketchup and onion in food processor and mix till smooth. Add remaining ingredients and pulse briefly so you end up with a slightly chunky dressing. Keep refrigerated and use within 5 days.

Makes about 2 cups

Individual Black Forest Trifles

In 1915 Josef Keller, pastry chef at the Café Ahrend in Bad Godesberg in south-west Germany, invented the Black Forest Cake, using a local liqueur made with sour cherries to produce a distinctive flavour. His winning combination of chocolate and cherries went on to become famous around the world.

Here I’ve used the same ingredients to make a quick and easy dessert, layered in a glass. For an authentic flavour it’s worth investing in a bottle of cherry brandy, but a dash of ordinary brandy or your favourite liqueur will do.

I wanted to decorate each trifle with a fresh cherry, but tried three supermarkets and there wasn’t a fresh cherry to be had, it being mid-winter here.

You can also make this trifle in one large glass dish.

Chocolate cake (bought or homemade)
Cherry jam (I used Hero’s Black Cherry)
Preserved cherries in a can or jar (I used a 680g jar of Aldi’s pitted Morellos)
2 heaped tsp arrowroot
Cherry brandy or brandy (optional)
Chocolate Ganache:
350ml cream
50ml milk
200g dark chocolate (I used Cadbury’s Old Gold 70%)
To decorate:
250ml cream, extra
Fresh cherries
Grated chocolate

Slice cake horizontally and fill with a generous layer of cherry jam, then stick the two halves back together. You will need a third to half a jar of jam. Cut slices or chunks of cake and arrange a piece in 8 glass tumblers. If liked, drizzle each with a tablespoonful or two of cherry brandy or brandy.

Place cherries in a saucepan with most of the juice and heat to boiling point. Mix arrowroot with the rest of the juice until smooth, then add this to the cherries and cook, stirring, until thickened. Spoon cherries over the chocolate cake.

Place cream and milk in a small saucepan. Add chocolate, broken into squares, then heat to boiling point, stirring until chocolate has completely dissolved. Spoon chocolate ganache over the cherries and shake glass to spread evenly. Desserts can be made ahead to this point and kept in the fridge, covered, for several hours or overnight.

Whip extra cream until soft peaks form, then place a large dollop on each trifle. Decorate with a fresh cherry on its stalk (if available) and some grated chocolate.

Serves 8

Variations: Use fresh pitted cherries, stewed with a little sugar, in season. Use milk chocolate instead of dark. Use a different red fruit jam. Arrowroot is available in the cake ingredients section of the supermarket.

Glazed Sweet Potatoes with Orange and Garlic

Learning a language is hard work and keeping it going can be a challenge.  As the saying goes – if you don’t use it you lose it. I started French at school in the UK when I was 11 and have managed to keep it going, helped by 3 years in Geneva in the early 70s and 4 years in Paris in the late 90s, ever since.

In Canberra I belong to a group called Accueil which meets once a month to speak French over lunch. We take it in turns to host and everyone brings a sweet or savoury dish. This inevitably results in a spectacular spread.

Last month Gabrielle brought a delicious sweet potato dish from one of my favourite chefs Yotam Ottolenghi. Since then I’ve made the recipe three times – the first time with sweet potatoes, the second time with carrots from the garden and the third time with a mixture of the two. They were all delicious.

A bottle of Angostura Bitters has been sitting in our drinks cabinet for years. Apart from an occasional dash in a gin and tonic or a splash on top of a pisco sour it rarely sees the light of day. It’s probably been there for a decade, but having made this dish three times I had to buy another bottle. Any good liquor store should stock it.

Ottolenghi serves the sweet potatoes sprinkled with goat’s cheese, but I think it’s perfectly nice without.

1½ cups orange juice (preferably fresh)
1/3 cup brown sugar
¼ cup red wine or apple cider vinegar
¼ cup Angostura bitters
2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
4-6 sweet potatoes
2 small red chillies (optional)
3 sprigs sage
10 sprigs thyme
2 heads garlic, unpeeled, cut in two horizontally
100g goat’s cheese (optional)
Fresh herbs to garnish

Place orange juice, brown sugar and vinegar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil then boil steadily for about 20 minutes or until reduced to one cup. Add Angostura Bitters, oil and salt.

Preheat oven to 200°C. Peel sweet potatoes and cut into thick wedges – see photo. Place in a bowl with the chillies, herbs and garlic. Pour in the orange juice mixture and mix well to coat, then spread out over a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper if liked, to make the washing up a bit easier.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, turning the vegetables every 15 minutes or so. The sweet potatoes should be nicely glazed all over when done, so if they are looking a bit dry add a dash more orange juice or water to the pan.

Serve warm or at room temperature, sprinkled with goat’s cheese if using and garnished with some fresh herbs.

Serves 6

 

Crispy Fish in Chilli Sauce

The first Australian Women’s Weekly cookbooks were published in the late 1970s and constituted a turning point in Australian cuisine. There were very few cookbooks on the shelves back then and everyone had the same ones. My small collection included The Margaret Fulton Cookbook, The Complete Asian Cookbook by Charmaine Solomon, Great Dishes of the World by Robert Carrier and Mastering the Art of French Cooking, volumes 1 and 2, by Julia Child.

From 1976 the Women’s Weekly released a new book every few months – eagerly awaited by keen cooks around Australia. My friend Ferne and I made every single recipe and compared notes when we met. Home cooks started asking their local supermarkets for new and unusual ingredients and the supermarkets had to keep up with the demand.

The Chinese Cooking Class Cookbook hit stores in 1978 and sold out within a couple of weeks. Since then, it’s been reprinted countless times, selling over 4 million copies around the world. My well-worn copy, now almost 40 years old, has comments and amendments on every recipe. The price of $3.98 is on the front page and believe me, I got my money’s worth.

This is where I learnt to cook Chinese food, before I moved on to the likes of Ken Hom and Kylie Kwong. If you don’t have a copy and can find one online or in a bookshop, grab it. You won’t be disappointed. To say it’s an oldie but a goodie would be an understatement. Other favourites of mine were Beautiful Biscuits, the Italian Cookbook and the two Dinner Party Cookbooks, but there must have been around 50 in the full series. For about five years they were my bibles and although I rarely use them now, I can’t bear to throw them out.

I haven’t made this fish recipe for over 10 years and had forgotten how good it was. The original recipe has twice as much batter, but I find this amount is just enough. I hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

500g skinless, boneless white fish fillets
Oil for frying, such as canola or sunflower
Batter:
½ cup plain flour
2 Tbs cornflour
1 egg white
4-5 Tbs cold water
Pinch salt
Sauce:
1 Tbs oil
1 Tbs grated fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
¼ cup tomato sauce (ketchup)
¼ cup Thai sweet chilli sauce
2 tsp sugar
1 Tbs soy sauce
2 tsp dry sherry
2-3 Tbs water
Garnish:
Thin strips of the green part of spring onions, soaked in iced water

Cut fish into 2-3cm chunks. Mix all ingredients for batter until you have a thick, smooth batter. Place all ingredients for sauce in a medium frying pan, bring to the boil, then turn off the heat. Place all the fish pieces in the batter and turn to coat. Heat about 5cm oil in a wok, deep fat fryer or saucepan.

Remove fish pieces one at a time from the batter and lower into the hot oil. Cook them in 2 or 3 batches until golden brown and cooked through. Drain fish and place in the frying pan with the chilli sauce.

Turn on the heat in the frying pan and cook for a couple of minutes, turning the fish pieces gently, to coat them with the sauce. Garnish with spring onion slivers and serve with steamed rice.

Serves 4

Five Star Macaroni Cheese

My mother made Macaroni Cheese when we were kids. Along with Spaghetti Bolognese it was our only experience with pasta back then, before Italian cuisine took off. A baked pasta dish is the ultimate in comfort food.

On a recent trip to the USA I ordered a macaroni cheese which had large chunks of lobster folded through. It was divine.

Lobster is expensive so it always seems a sin to do anything to it but eat it cold with mayonnaise. But if you´re fortunate enough to live somewhere where it’s cheap and plentiful, by all means add some to this dish. If not, the recipe also works well with prawns or crab meat.

2 bunches asparagus (about 8 stalks)
1 cob fresh corn (or 1 cup frozen or canned) (optional)
2 cups macaroni or other small pasta
250g cooked lobster meat, crab meat or prawn meat (weight after shelling)
50g butter
2 Tbs plain flour
1 cup milk
1 cup cream
Grated nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup breadcrumbs (preferably Panko or home-made)
2-3 Tbs extra grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 180C. Trim off the woody ends of the asparagus, then cut them into 3 cm lengths. Cook in boiling salted water for 4-5 mins or until just cooked, then drain. Cook the corn and the pasta in boiling salted water and drain.

Heat butter in a medium non-stick saucepan. Add flour and stir for a minute or so to cook. Gradually add the milk and cream, stirring until you have a thick sauce. Add grated Parmesan and seasonings. Fold in the asparagus, pasta, corn and chosen seafood, then spread into a greased shallow baking dish. Top with the breadcrumbs and extra Parmesan. Bake for 30 mins or until golden brown. Serve with a simple green salad or steamed green vegetable such as Broccolini, Green Beans or Broccoli.

Serves 4

Variations: use 2 cups milk and omit the cream; use diced chicken or ham instead of the seafood. Use grated cheddar instead of Parmesan.

Tomato and Goat’s Cheese Tart

Semi-dried tomatoes, sold in the deli section of most Australian supermarkets, were the inspiration for this colourful recipe.

If you can’t buy them where you live make your own by slicing some Roma tomatoes in half lengthwise and putting them on a rack, cut side up, over a shallow tray in a low oven (about 140°c), sprinkled with a little salt, pepper and sugar, for 3-4 hours. When they look somewhat shrivelled and semi-dried remove and drizzle with a little olive oil. You don’t want too much moisture left in them or the tart will be soggy.

As we ate this delicious tart we agreed that toasted pine nuts would be a good additional garnish for next time.

1 sheet bought puff pastry
2 large onions, sliced
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp sugar
good pinch of salt
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
½ cup water
300g semi-dried tomatoes from the supermarket Deli
110g soft goat’s cheese
To garnish:
Fresh basil leaves
Toasted pine nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Roll out pastry and use to line a large metal tart tin. Prick all over with a fork then bake blind (without filling) for 10 minutes or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile heat oil in a large frying pan and cook the onions gently for about 15 minutes or until soft. Add the sugar, salt and balsamic vinegar and continue to cook, stirring, for 5-10 minutes longer. Add half the water, stir well then continue cooking, stirring often, until it has evaporated. Repeat with the rest of the water. Turn off heat.

Spread onions over base of tart. Top with tomatoes and arrange the crumbled cheese in between. Bake for 25-30 mins or until pastry is golden brown and the cheese and tomatoes are starting to brown.

Cool tart for 10 minutes, then serve garnished with fresh basil leaves (and pine nuts if using) accompanied by a simple green salad.

Serves 4-6

Substitutes: use feta instead of goat’s cheese

 

Vanilla Ice Cream with Toasted Macadamias and Caramel Sauce

I was inspired to create this recipe after eating nut ice cream with caramel sauce at Pomegranate Restaurant in Canberra.

Ice cream made with glucose (corn) syrup is alleged to be softer and smoother, so I decided to see if it was true. It was one of the best vanilla ice creams I have made with a very smooth and creamy texture. I didn’t use an ice cream machine but you can if you prefer.

4 eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup glucose (corn) syrup
1½ cups cream
1½ cups (unsweetened) evaporated milk
2 tsp arrowroot
1 tsp vanilla essence
½ tsp salt
1 cup whipping cream (extra)
Caramel Sauce:
½ cup cream
½ cup brown sugar
50g butter
To serve:
Macadamia nuts, lightly toasted then roughly chopped

Place eggs, sugar, glucose/corn syrup, cream and evaporated milk in a heavy-based saucepan and mix well with a balloon whisk. Place over medium-low heat and cook, whisking constantly until you have a custard which coats the back of a spoon. Be careful it doesn’t burn or get too hot. Mix the arrowroot with 1 tablespoonful of water and mix into the custard with the vanilla and salt. Remove from the heat and pour through a fine sieve. Cool then chill in the fridge for several hours or overnight. Whip the extra cream until soft peaks form and fold into the chilled custard.

Churn ice cream in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions, then scrape into a container and store in the freezer. If you don’t have an ice cream machine, pour into a shallow container and freeze until almost frozen but not rock hard, scrape into a food processor and process very briefly till smooth, then freeze again.

Caramel Sauce: place cream, brown sugar and butter in a saucepan and heat over moderate heat, stirring till dissolved. Allow to simmer for about 3 minutes then cool and serve at room temperature.

Remove ice cream from freezer and place in the fridge for 15-20 mins before serving, to make it easier to scoop. Serve the ice cream with the toffee sauce and the toasted macadamia nuts.

Makes about 1.5 litres

Variations:

  • use 3 cups cream and omit the evaporated milk.
  • use 8 egg yolks instead of 4 whole eggs. This makes the ice cream richer.
  • If preferred, fold the toasted nuts into the ice cream when you mix in the whipped cream.
  • use toasted walnuts, pecans or almonds instead of macadamias

Korean Beef

I haven’t posted any mouth-watering desserts of late. I’m trying to avoid them at the moment in an attempt to make some headway in the battle of the bulge. I always seem to be on the losing side in this battle, which I guess is par for the course when you love cooking and eating as I do. Anyway I like to think that this blog provides inspiration for subscribers wondering what to make for dinner tonight. Quick and easy, everyday dishes are the mainstay of Café Cat.

Fans of sweet sticky Asian meat dishes will like this one. Adjust the amount of brown sugar to suit your taste. The recipe doesn’t contain any chilli (though you could always add some) so it’s a good way to introduce young kids to Asian food. If you (or the kids) don’t like mushrooms leave them out and increase the meat.

2 Tbs olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
250g mushrooms, wiped and sliced
450g lean beef (fillet or Scotch fillet) or leftover rare roast beef, in thin strips
¼ to ½ cup brown sugar
¼ cup soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, crushed
2 Tbs sesame oil
To serve:
Steamed rice
Chives or spring onions, sliced
Toasted sesame seeds

Heat oil in a large frying pan or wok and cook the onion until soft, then add the mushrooms and continue to cook, stirring, until mushrooms are starting to brown. Remove from pan.

Add a tiny bit more oil to the pan with the beef strips and stir fry until browned. If you are using leftover roast beef this won’t take long. Add the brown sugar, soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil and cook, stirring, for a few minutes, or until sauce is thickening and glazed.

Return mushrooms and onions to the pan. As soy sauce is salty you probably won’t need to add salt to this dish. If the mixture is a bit dry, add 2-3 Tbs water and stir to combine. Serve beef with steamed rice, garnished with sliced spring onions or chives and a few sesame seeds.

Serves 4