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.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup with Pesto

Between the vegetable patch at the farm – where we spend  every second weekend – and the one in Canberra, we produce more than half the fruit and vegetables we eat, with some to give away to family and friends during summer. All organic of course.

There’s no shortage of space at the farm so we grow things like strawberries, raspberries, asparagus, potatoes, onions and garlic as well as pumpkins, cucumbers, tomatoes and zucchini. We’re also establishing an orchard, with quince, apples, pears and plums. In town where space is more limited we stick to herbs, radishes, lettuces and rocket.

You can’t grow salad greens in northern Europe in the middle of winter, but here in Canberra a typical winter’s day is often 15 to 20 degrees Celsius warmer than the nighttime sub-zero temperatures. This means that the soil doesn’t freeze solid and allows some vegetables to be grown in sheltered areas of the garden. A piece of glass or plastic helps protect the foliage from the frost

Rather than going out and buying something we tend to eat what we have. At the moment, it being the middle of winter, we have spinach, carrots, rocket and lettuce. Not much in the way of fruit, apart from the lemon tree which is laden and lots of cooking apples I froze during summer.

Carrots from the garden were the inspiration for this soup which showcases the natural sweetness of root vegetables. The coconut milk gives a velvety, creamy texture and the pesto makes a nice contrast in colour and flavours. The pesto in the photo is a bit dark because I froze it during summer. Still tastes good though.

Carrot and Sweet Potato Soup with Pesto

1 large onion, chopped
25g butter
About 1kg sweet potatoes and carrots (half and half or whatever)
1 can coconut milk or cream
2 chicken or vegetable stock cubes
Water
To serve:
Milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pesto (home-made or bought)

In a large heavy-based saucepan, heat butter and cook onion for 5-10 minutes or until soft but not brown. Add sweet potatoes and carrots, peeled and cut into chunks, the coconut milk or cream, enough water to cover the vegetables and the stock cubes. Simmer for 20-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft, then cool a bit and blend in a blender until smooth. To serve, reheat with enough milk to make to desired consistency. Season to taste and garnish with some pesto, thinned down a bit with some olive oil if it’s too thick.

Serves 6-8

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

Zucchini and Cheese Fritters

Our two zucchini plants have produced a steady crop over summer. There are a number of my favourite zucchini recipes on this blog which you can find under Vegetables in the index, but I’m always looking for new ideas.

The original recipe for these fritters (from Delicious magazine) uses Halloumi cheese, which is what I used and they were delicious. But some of my readers, living in South America for example, can’t buy Halloumi and even Feta is not easy to find. I reckon pretty much any cheese would work and I look forward to readers’ comments telling me what they used.

I would be lost without my Magimix which has a large 0.5cm grating disc that makes quick work of the grating. It didn’t come with the standard attachments – I had to buy it separately – but it’s proved to be invaluable.

About 700g zucchinis (see note below), coarsely grated
1 tsp salt
100g ham (preferably smoked) chopped (optional – leave out for vegetarians)
250g coarsely grated or crumbled cheese (Halloumi, Feta, Goat’s cheese, Cheddar)
2/3 cup self-raising flour
1/3 cup plain flour
2 eggs
½ cup chopped dill (use parsley if not available)
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 Tbs olive oil plus extra for frying
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Green Goddess Dressing
1 cup each of mint, dill, parsley and tarragon leaves (see note below)
1 Tbs lemon juice
½ cup sour cream
½ cup thick Greek yoghurt
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
To serve:
Salad leaves and sliced radishes

Place zucchini in a colander with the salt, mix it through with your hand then leave to stand in the sink for half an hour. Squeeze out as much of the liquid with your hand.

In a large bowl place zucchini, ham, cheese, flours, eggs, dill, chilli flakes, pepper and the 1 Tbs oil and mix thoroughly.

Heat a little olive oil in a large frying pan and cook the fritters, 3 or 4 at a time until golden brown on both sides, flattening slightly with the spatula. Drain on paper towels and keep warm while you cook the rest. Add a little more oil for each batch and use about 3 Tbs or so of mixture for each fritter.

To make the sauce, place all ingredients in food processor and whiz till smooth.

Serve fritters garnished with some salad – I used rocket and radishes but you can use anything you have available. Pass the sauce in a jug.

Makes at least 12 fritters serving 4-6

Notes:
I used one large zucchini which weighed around a kilo. I cut it lengthwise into four and then removed and discarded all the seeds. With smaller zucchini there’s no need to do this.

If you don’t have all 4 herbs for the sauce, use more of the ones you have.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pork San Choy Bau

Wraps have become a popular alternative to sandwiches in the past few years. Supermarkets and cafés offer a wide range and they make a satisfying and healthy lunch.

Start by spreading the wrap with homemade or bought mayonnaise or hummus, then put some protein such as cheese, ham, cold roast chicken, canned tuna or hard-boiled egg in a line down the middle, then whatever else you can find in the fridge – chutney, olives, cucumber, grated carrot, sliced tomatoes, lettuce, a few nuts. I don’t think I’ve ever made the same one twice.

This quick and tasty Chinese recipe uses lettuce cups instead of wraps and is perfect for a mid-week dinner or informal entertaining. Eat them with your fingers – which is a bit messy but the way they’re intended to be eaten – or with a knife and fork. Instead of lettuce cups you could serve the filling in ordinary bread wraps.

2 tsp vegetable oil
500g minced pork
1 chopped onion or 3 shallots
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 Tbs fresh ginger, finely chopped or grated
1 220g can water chestnuts, drained and sliced
¼ cup oyster sauce
¼ cup Thai sweet chilli sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
2 Tbs sesame oil
1-2 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs Chinese cooking wine or sherry
2 Tbs lemon or lime juice
To serve:
1 iceberg lettuce, separated into cups
2 Tbs sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2 shredded spring onions

In a large frying pan heat the oil then add the pork, onion and garlic and stir fry for about 10 minutes over moderately high heat, until onions are soft and pork is broken up and starting to brown. Add ginger and water chestnuts and continue to cook for a couple of minutes.

Add remaining ingredients and stir until sauce has thickened and starting to caramelise.

Serve pork in the lettuce cups garnished with toasted sesame seeds and spring onions. The outside leaves of the lettuce are too large to use for this recipe, so keep them for another meal and use the smaller ones.

Serves 4

Variations:

  • Use beef or chicken mince instead of pork
  • Use Hoisin sauce instead of Oyster Sauce
  • If you don’t have any water chestnuts, leave them out

 

 

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Tim Tams

This chocolate fudge cake has been our family’s birthday cake for decades. Twice it was promoted to the status of a three-tiered wedding cake – once covered with dark chocolate ganache and shaved chocolate and the second time with white chocolate ganache. It continues to be the preferred celebration cake in our family.

For the unenlightened, a Tim Tam consists of two layers of chocolate malted biscuit, separated by chocolate cream filling and coated with a thin layer of chocolate. These biscuits have become something of an Australian icon since their launch by Arnotts in 1963. Over the years new flavours and fillings have been introduced to keep up with modern trends. Tim Tams now come in dark or milk chocolate and with fillings such as salted caramel and peanut butter.

Matthew is a staunch Tim Tam fan so I decided to use them to decorate his birthday cake this year. Unfortunately white chocolate ends up rather yellow as you can see in the photo – but it tasted good! Make the cake the day before the birthday as it’s much easier to ice next day.

Chocolate Fudge Cake with Tim Tams

2/3 cup cocoa powder
½ cup hot water
125g butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla essence
1¾ cups self-raising flour, sifted
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 cup buttermilk (for substitute see below)
Pinch salt
Chocolate Ganache:
300ml thick cream
250g chocolate (dark, milk or white)
To decorate:
2 x 200g packets Tim Tams
1 packet Maltesers (optional)
3 Tbs cream and 50g white chocolate, melted, to drizzle over

In a small bowl, mix hot water with cocoa until smooth. Preheat oven to 180°. In a fan-forced oven it’s best to lower the temperature to 170ºC so cake doesn’t rise too fast. Grease a 20-22cm round cake tin and line the bottom with baking paper. Alternatively use two shallow sandwich tins and line them both.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla, lastly chocolate mixture and buttermilk alternately with sifted dry ingredients. Give the mixture a good beat for 30 seconds to remove any lumps. If preferred you can do all the creaming and mixing in a food processor.

Scrape mixture into cake tin and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 mins in the centre of the oven, or until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Don’t overcook as you want the cake to be moist and fudgey. Two thinner cakes will take less time, around 25 mins. Cool 10 minutes in tin. Turn out and cool on a cake rack.

Make Chocolate Ganache – see below. Either ice cake just on the top and sides, or if you’ve cooked it in two sandwich tins use some of the ganache in the middle to stick them together. You can also cut one large cake in two horizontally with a serrated knife. If cake has risen into too much of a domed shape shave a bit off with a serrated knife and eat it for morning tea!

To ice cake in the middle as well as top and sides you need to make one and a half times the Ganache recipe. You need plenty to avoid cake crumbs coming off as you work and it’s very annoying to run out.

While the cake is perfectly nice without any adornment, if liked stick Tim Tams around the sides, cover the top with Maltesers and drizzle with melted and cooled white chocolate mixture. Cake keeps for 3-4 days in a tin.

Chocolate Ganache: Heat cream in a small saucepan until boiling then remove from the heat and add chocolate, broken into squares. Stir to dissolve then cool until thick enough to spread over cake.

Substitute: if you don’t have buttermilk use ½ cup plain yoghurt and ½ cup milk or 1 cup milk mixed with 1 tsp vinegar and left to stand for an hour.

Serves 14


PT45M
PT15M
PT60M

Julia’s Burgers with Beetroot Relish

I recently caught up with my friend Julia over a delicious lunch at The Palette Café. Inevitably the conversation got onto food and how we both love beetroot. I said we had grown some last year with mixed success. “Ah” said Julia “I have the solution”.

The trick is to soak the seeds overnight in tepid water and then plant the drained seeds in potting mix in cardboard toilet roll holders. Once they are up plant the seedlings, toilet roll holder and all, into the soil. Julia grows zucchini and pumpkin the same way.

Word went out that Matthew needed empty toilet roll holders and before you could say Jack Robinson friends and family all over town were coming to the rescue. It’s interesting to see how many some families go through in a week and how abstemious others are by comparison. On this subject Matthew quotes a statistic from his time in the Australian Army. Requirements were calculated on the basis of seven and a half squares per man per day. With a lot more women in the military these days they’ve no doubt had to throw those figures out the window.

While on the subject of beetroot Julia promised to send me her recipe for Veal Burgers with Beetroot Relish which she cut out of the local newspaper some time ago. If you don’t have veal use beef, pork or chicken mince. If you are unable to buy Tzatziki either make your own – there are plenty of recipes online – or just leave it out. The burgers are almost as good served with just the Beetroot Relish.

I used English mustard instead of Dijon in the relish and doubled the amount from half to one teaspoonful. The coarse (0.5cm) grating disc attachment on my Magimix made short work of grating the apples and beetroot.

The recipe says to leave the relish for 3 weeks to mature before using. I think we gave ours about 30 minutes! It was still scrumptious and there’s plenty left over for the next batch of burgers!

img_1247

Burgers
400g veal mince (or beef, pork, chicken)
2 Tbs semi-dried or dried tomatoes, finely chopped
2 Tbs pitted kalamata olives, finely chopped
2 Tbs finely chopped parsley
1 egg
Salt and pepper to taste
To serve
2-3 zucchini cut into ribbons with vegetable peeler
1 Tbs olive oil
4 bread buns, split and toasted, or 4 pieces toasted baguette
Handful of baby spinach leaves
Few cherry tomatoes
1 small tub Tzatziki (bought)
1 Tbs chopped mint
Beetroot Relish (see recipe below)

Mix all ingredients for burgers and form into four patties. Cut zucchini into long ribbons and mix with the oil. Heat a barbecue, griddle pan or non-stick frying pan and cook the burgers for about 5 minutes each side or until done to your liking. Cook the zucchini strips on both sides on the same barbecue or in a second frying pan, until golden, then drain on paper towels.

Arrange a few spinach leaves on one half of the toasted buns or baguette, then the burgers. Garnish with tomatoes, zucchini ribbons and some Beetroot Relish. Mix the mint into the Tzatziki and serve separately.

Serves 4

Beetroot Relish
400g beetroots
200g green apples
1 Tbs oil
1 brown onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
½ cup white wine or cider vinegar
½ cup balsamic vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
1 Tbs lemon juice
1 tsp English mustard (or Dijon)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 tsp allspice
1 tsp cinnamon
2 whole cloves
5cm piece of orange rind, removed with a potato peeler

Place beetroots in a saucepan, cover with water, then cook for about 40 mins or until tender. Cool, peel, then grate coarsely. Peel and coarsely grate the apples.

Heat oil in a heavy-based saucepan and gently cook the onion and garlic until soft but not brown. Add the apple and remaining ingredients, except the grated beetroot and cook for 10 minutes or so, until cooked down. Then add the beetroot and continue to cook for about 30 minutes until thickened like a relish. You’re supposed to remove and discard the piece of orange rind, but I finely chopped it and mixed it back in.

Pour into clean sterilised jars and seal while hot. If possible, leave for 3 weeks to mature before using. To sterilise jars place them in the microwave on High for 2 minutes without the lids.

 

 

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

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
Sauce:
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

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.

Rice Pudding

Rice pudding made a regular appearance on the dessert menu when I was growing up in England. My mother served it with jam or baked until it formed a golden brown skin on top. Either way it was delicious. Sadly most of the desserts I grew up with have gone out of fashion. Indeed there are probably a lot of readers who have never tried a home-made rice pudding, let alone made one.

A few years at boarding school in the UK put Matthew off all the traditional British milky desserts – rice pudding, tapioca, semolina pudding and custard. He was scarred for life and won’t touch them with a barge pole.

The weather was cold and miserable last week and I was feeling the need for some comfort food. So I made rice pudding and as Matthew doesn’t like it I ate the lot – for breakfast, for dessert or as a snack.

Rice pudding is such a flexible dish. Make it on the stove top, in the oven, in the microwave or in a rice cooker. Serve it hot or cold with jam, stewed fruit such as rhubarb or apples, or fresh fruit such as banana, blueberries or mango. Sweeten it with sugar, honey or maple syrup. If using sugar then add it when you cook the rice. If using honey or maple syrup, drizzle it on top when serving.

I usually zap a bowl full in the microwave and eat it with a drizzle of cold cream on top. Heaven, if you like that sort of thing.

Rice Pudding

1 cup short grain or medium grain rice
25g unsalted butter (optional, but it does make it richer)
4 cups (1 litre) milk
1/3 cup brown or white sugar (I use slightly less)
1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped (or 1 tsp vanilla essence)
½ cup cream or canned evaporated milk
To serve:
Jam such as raspberry, strawberry or rhubarb (preferably home-made)
Or stewed fruit such as apples, peaches, rhubarb
Or fresh fruit such as banana, blueberries or mango

Place all ingredients except the cream in a saucepan, Bring to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer, stirring from time to time, for 20-25 mins or until rice is al dente. Stir in the cream or evaporated milk and serve immediately while it’s hot, or chill and serve later, hot or cold. If preferred you can drizzle the cream or evaporated milk on top at serving time.

I prefer it hot, but it’s easy to zap a serving in the microwave.  Serve with jam, fruit compote or fresh fruit.

Serves 4

Rice Pudding made in a Rice Cooker
Place all ingredients except the cream or evaporated milk in a rice cooker and cook for one cycle, leaving it on the “keep warm” setting for 15 mins or so after it’s cooked. Add cream or evaporated milk and serve. Depending on the size of your rice cooker you may need to reduce the quantities so it doesn’t boil over. Mine is quite small so I have to reduce the rice to ¾ cup and the milk to 3 cups. Also I need to stir it a couple of times while it’s cooking, so it doesn’t stick.

Rice Pudding made in the Microwave
A really good way to use up leftover plain cooked rice. While rice puddings are usually made with short or medium grain rice, because they are stickier, any kind will do. Place cooked rice in a large bowl, so it won’t boil over. Add enough milk to not quite cover the rice and sugar to taste. Cover then microwave on High for 2-3 mins. Add cream or evaporated milk and serve. Or you can microwave it in individual servings.

Rice Pudding made in the Oven
Make rice pudding either in a saucepan (according to the basic recipe) or in a rice cooker or microwave. If made in the microwave you will need to use about 4 cups of leftover rice. Butter a shallow 6 cup baking dish, add the rice pudding and spread it out. If it seems a bit thick add a little milk and stir through. Dot with a little butter (about 30g cut into small pieces) and sprinkle with a little brown or white sugar. If liked a sprinkling of coconut flakes is nice. Bake in a hot oven for 25-30 mins or until browned on top and serve with a drizzle of cream.