Pasta with Chicken, Bacon, Artichokes & Spinach

Roast chickens were half price when I did my supermarket shopping this week. They are always handy to have in the fridge to whip up one or two quick meals.

I used one drumstick and one thigh to fill a couple of wraps for lunch. Onto the wraps I spread some home-made mayonnaise, then topped with the chicken, a few roasted pumpkin cubes with pesto (leftover from the previous night’s dinner), some lettuce leaves, grated carrot and a little Tomato Kasaundi – a delicious curried chutney which isn’t on Café Cat yet, but will be in due course. You could use another chutney. Invented on the spur of the moment, this wrap filling was a winning combination.

In an attempt to follow a fairly low carb diet we don’t eat a lot of pasta – maybe once or twice a month. When we do, I like to make something tasty with lots of additions, so it’s not all pasta. The only thing I had to nip to the corner shop for was the spinach, everything else was in the fridge or pantry. If you don’t have a cooked chicken in the fridge you could pan-fry one chicken breast instead.

250g pasta of your choice
80-100g chunky bacon bits (lardons)
2 Tbs olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 cooked chicken breast, shredded or chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 cup artichoke hearts (from a jar or can), sliced
2 cups baby spinach leaves, firmly packed
1/3 cup cream
To serve:
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Drain, keeping 1 cup of the cooking water, then put back into the pan with the reserved liquid.

Meanwhile cook the chunky bacon bits in a non-stick frying pan until browned and crispy. Remove from the pan. If you like discard the bacon fat but I usually keep it. Add the oil and onion to the pan and cook, stirring often, until soft and starting to brown. Add the onions to the pasta with the bacon, chicken, garlic, artichokes, spinach and cream. Turn on the heat just long enough to heat everything through, stirring. Season to taste.

Serve the pasta topped with grated Parmesan and freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 2-3

 

Crispy Chicken Tray Bake

A perfect dish to serve at a family gathering. Adjust the quantity of ingredients according to how many people you are serving.

Make a big salad and buy some fresh crusty bread to soak up the juices. A tub of ice cream served with this quick and easy chocolate sauce and Bob’s your Uncle, as they say in the classics. Dinner’s served.

10-16 chicken pieces, bone-in, skin on
½ to 1kg small chat potatoes
1-2 large onions, halved then sliced
1-2 cloves garlic, crushed
150-200g rindless bacon, chopped
1-2 Tbs chopped fresh thyme (or 1-2 tsp dried)
½-¾ cup chicken stock
150-200ml cream
1-2 Tbs Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
To serve:
Sprigs of fresh thyme

Trim chicken pieces of excess fat. Preheat oven to 200°C. Cut potatoes in half and arrange over the base of a large shallow baking dish or tin. Spread the onions, garlic and bacon evenly over the potatoes. Sprinkle with the thyme. Arrange chicken pieces over the top, skin side up and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes.

Mix stock, cream and mustard and pour evenly over the chicken. Return to the oven for a further 30-40 minutes or until chicken is cooked and crispy and potatoes are tender.

Serves 8-12

Renés Chicken with Pernod

For over two decades, the iconic Omaha restaurant Dixie Quicks drew customers of all ages and backgrounds like a magnet, for good food, acceptance and respect. René Orduña ran the restaurant with his husband Rob Gilmer and it soon became a hotspot for artists, drag queens, musicians and creative types, giving sanctuary and guidance to gay Omahans.

When René died of cancer in 2016 Rob continued to run the restaurant on his own for two years. But it was not the same. “This was Renés restaurant” he said. “He was the catalyst, he was the force.” So after 22 years in business Dixie Quicks finally closed its doors in January 2018.

René gave his recipe for Chicken with Pernod to my cousin Mary Beth who lives in Omaha. It was one of the most popular dishes on the menu and her favourite.

2 large skinless boneless chicken breasts (or 4 small ones)
1/3 to 1/2 cup plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tsp butter and 2 tsp oil
1 large shallot or 1 small onion, finely diced
250g tomatoes cut in quarters or cherry tomatoes, halved
¼ to ½ cup chicken stock
½ cup cream (or coconut cream)
½ cup Pernod
To serve
:
Steamed Rice
Finely chopped parsley

Trim chicken breasts, cut each one in half and hammer out a bit with a meat mallet. Season the flour and use it to coat chicken on both sides, discarding any excess. Heat butter and oil in a frying pan which holds the 4 pieces of chicken in one layer. Brown chicken on both sides, then lower the heat and continue to cook until cooked through. Remove from pan.

Add shallots or onion to the pan and cook, stirring over low heat until soft. Add tomatoes and a little salt and pepper. Return chicken to the pan, add Pernod and stir to deglaze the pan. Flambé, shaking the pan until the flames subside. Add chicken stock and cream and cook, stirring and turning the chicken until sauce has thickened and reduced a bit. This will only take a coupe of minutes. Check for seasoning.

Serve over steamed rice, sprinkled with parsley.

Servs 4

 

Chicken with Coconut Pilaf

We recently hosted a 60th birthday dinner on a balmy summer’s evening, for a friend who follows a gluten-free, dairy-free diet.

Watermelon and Feta squares went down well with drinks on the verandah, then we started the meal with Gin-Cured Salmon with Kewpie Mayonnaise and Pickled Grapes and finished with Big Mary’s Mexican Bombe. I replaced the dairy cream with Organic Coconut Whipping Cream, made by The Tender Table and sold in some specialty shops. With six candles, one for each decade, this dessert doubled as a birthday cake.

For the main course I served this chicken dish which was given to me by my daughter’s friend Mel over a decade ago. Mel is a fabulous chef and now makes special cakes to order in Canberra.

A chicken supreme is a boneless breast with the skin and first section of the wing left on. If you’re not sure what it looks like watch this video. There’s a shop in a nearby shopping mall that specialises in chicken. They didn’t have supremes on display, but the butcher knew what I wanted and prepared them for me.

Chicken:
6-8 chicken supremes (boneless breasts with skin & first piece of wing attached)
Grated rind 1 lemon
1-2 small red chillies, very finely chopped
2 Tbs finely chopped coriander
2 Tbs olive oil
S and P
Pilaf:
2 Tbs  butter (or olive oil to keep it dairy-free)
2 cups basmati rice
1 x 400ml can coconut milk or cream and about 2 tins water
Juice of 1 lime or half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salad:
2 cups beansprouts
2 cups coriander leaves – broken off, not chopped
2 cups Vietnamese mint leaves (or ordinary mint)
2 cups purple basil leaves (or ordinary basil)
Dressing:
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs vinegar
To serve:
toasted shredded coconut

Trim any untidy bits off the chicken and if you think they look a bit too big, remove the fillets and keep them for a stir fry another day. Mix the chicken with the marinate ingredients and leave for several hours, or overnight if possible, in the fridge. Arrange chicken on a shallow baking tray (lined with baking paper if liked) and bake for 25-30 mins at 180°C, or until cooked and tender. Be careful not to overcook it, or it will be dry.

For the pilaf melt butter, add rice and stir to coat. Add coconut cream or milk and stir over low heat until the rice starts to thicken. Add water, lime juice, salt and pepper. Bring to the boil, then cover tightly and cook on a very low heat until liquid has all been absorbed. You may need to add slightly more or less water, so don’t add it all at the beginning and see how it goes, stirring and adding more if necessary. You can also do the rice in a rice cooker, just putting all the ingredients in together and adding a bit more water towards the end, if necessary.

Remove any stringy bits from the beansprouts. For the salad dressing, heat vinegar and sugar in a small pan, bring to the boil. Boil for a minute then cool. Mix all the salad ingredients together and at the last minute add the dressing, mixing gently using your fingers, so you don’t bruise the leaves.

To serve, divide rice among six serving plates. Place chicken on rice, top with the salad and finally the toasted coconut. I used large dried coconut from Aldi, stirred in a dry frying pan over moderate heat until lightly browned.

Serves 6-8

Thai Chicken Salad with Peanut Crust

This recipe was given to me by my friend Barbara and I’ve made it twice over the holiday period. I’ve added a little dressing to the salad and served the chicken sliced on top, rather than mixed through the salad.

1 cup roasted peanuts
¼ cup red curry paste
1 cup coriander leaves, loosely packed
1/3 cup coconut milk
700g to 1kg chicken breasts
Salt to taste (if using salted peanuts you can leave it out)
Salad:
1 or 2 cucumbers depending on size (400g)
1 cup bean sprouts
1/3 cup fresh mint leaves
1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
Dressing:
1 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Garnish:
Thinly sliced red chilli (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place peanuts, curry paste, coriander and coconut milk in food processor and process to form a slightly chunky paste. Spread on both sides of the chicken breasts and arrange on a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until cooked through – test with a knife.

Halve cucumbers lengthwise and remove seeds with a small teaspoon, then slice. Mix salad ingredients with dressing and arrange on serving plate. Slice chicken and arrange on top. Garnish with the chilli.

Serves 4-6

Substitutions: use cashews instead of peanuts. Any curry paste will do.

Chicken in a Pot with Pasta

This delicious one pot recipe comes from one of my favourite no-nonsense cooks, Nigella Lawson. As the chicken, leeks and carrots cook they create a delicious stock which soaks into the pasta. Nigella uses a very small pasta called Orzo or Risoni, which looks a bit like grains of rice. I only had a small amount of Risoni at the bottom of a packet, so I made up the difference with another small pasta.

The recipe will serve at least six. We had it on its own, but you could always add a crusty loaf and a green salad to feed more people. Choose a large heavy pot with a lid which will hold the chicken, with room around it for the vegetables and pasta. Mine is an oval Le Creuset casserole (from the 1970s, when orange was a very popular colour!) which can be used on the stove top as well as in the oven. Nigella uses dried tarragon, but as I have fresh in the garden at the moment I used that.


1 Tbs olive oil
1 whole chicken (1.5 – 1.7 kg)
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 leeks (the white part and some of the green) sliced
2 large carrots, cut into sticks
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 large lemon
2 Tbs fresh tarragon, chopped (or 2 tsp dried)
2 tsp salt
½ tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
1L to 1.5L cold water
300g Risoni or other small pasta
6 Tbs chopped parsley
To serve:
Freshly grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 180°C and prepare the vegetables. Heat the oil in a large heavy-based casserole with a lid. Dry chicken with paper towels and place in the pan, breast side down, for 3-5 minutes, or until nicely browned. Turn the chicken over and then add the garlic, lemon rind and juice, tarragon, salt and chilli flakes, if using, filling the space around the chicken. Add enough water to cover the vegetables, but not the browned chicken breast which should be left sticking out of the liquid. Turn up the heat to bring the liquid to the boil, then cover the casserole and place in the oven for an hour to an hour and a quarter, by which time the chicken will be cooked. Add the pasta, pushing it under the liquid and stirring it as best you can.

Cover and return to the oven for 15 minutes or until the pasta is cooked. Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 15 minutes before serving. Mix in some of the parsley and scatter the rest on top. Serve a bowl of grated Parmesan on the side.

Serves 6-8

Note: if you don’t have a casserole dish which can be used on the stove top, brown the chicken breast in a frying pan, then put it into the casserole with the remaining ingredients and add boiling water instead of cold.

Chorizo Stuffed Chicken Roll with White Bean Salad

A boned and stuffed whole chicken makes a great centrepiece for a buffet table. I’ve done it once, or maybe twice. But it’s not a five minute job. This quick and easy recipe from Spanish-born Australian chef Miguel Maestre achieves the same flavour profile with far less effort.

If preferred use black pudding instead of chorizo.

5 large chicken thighs, skinless and boneless
2 chorizo sausages
About 8 thin slices of jamon serrano or prosciutto
Salad:
1 can butter beans, drained and rinsed
1 small red chilli, seeds removed and finely diced (optional)
1 French shallot, finely diced
3 Tbs finely chopped chives
2 Tbs finely chopped black olives
3 Tbs roughly chopped coriander
2 Tbs mayonnaise
1 Tbs olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Extra herbs for garnish
Balsamic glaze

Preheat oven to 200°C. Remove skin from chorizo and chop very finely in food processor.  On a shallow baking tray lined with baking paper, arrange the jamon, slightly overlapping, in a rectangle about 30cm wide and the height of the slices. Trim chicken pieces and gently hammer out any which are a bit too thick, so they are more even. Lay chicken on top of the jamon, leaving no gaps, like a jigsaw puzzle.

Place the pureed chorizo down the middle of the chicken. Using the baking paper to assist, roll the chicken over itself and form into a tight cylinder. Place the baking paper back down on the tray and arrange the chicken roll on top with the seam underneath. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until juices run clear when pierced with a skewer.

In a bowl place all the ingredients for the salad. Mix and season to taste.

Serve the chicken warm or at room temperature, thickly sliced, surrounded by the salad and garnished with the extra herbs. If serving cold, garnish with some balsamic glaze.

Serves 6-8

Teriyaki Burgers

Serve these tasty burgers as a mid-week family dinner, with or without French fries, and I guarantee you will be asked to put them on the menu on a regular basis.

There is no doubt that homemade French fries (or chips as we call them) are much tastier than bought ones. However, if I made them on a regular basis I would be twice the size, with or without Covid. So I keep a packet of bought chips in the freezer to zap in a hot oven and serve with steak, burgers and fried fish. Just a few, mostly for Matthew, which always puts a smile on his face. Using frozen fries makes this a very quick meal, but if you want to make your own please do.

6 hamburger buns, halved and toasted (I used brioche)
Quick pickled veggies (see below)
Mayonnaise (preferably Japanese Kewpie, but any will do)
Lettuce leaves
French fries, homemade or bought
Teriyaki chicken:
6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
3 Tbs plain flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tsp oil
¼ cup soy sauce
2 Tbs Mirin (or substitute vinegar)
2 Tbs sake or dry sherry
1½ Tbs sugar

Make the quick pickled veggies at least a couple of hours before eating. They will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Mix salt and pepper into flour and use to coat the chicken, shaking off excess. Heat oil in a large non-stick frying pan and cook chicken for 3-4 minutes on each side, or until golden. Mix the soy sauce, Mirin, sake and sugar and add to the pan. Cook, stirring and spooning the sauce over the chicken and turning them until the sauce has thickened and reduced and chicken is nicely glazed. Toast the burger buns. Be careful if using brioche buns as they can easily burn.

To serve, spread some mayonnaise on one half of each burger bun, then top with lettuce, some pickled veggies, a piece of chicken and the other half of the bun. If liked, serve with French fries, either homemade or bought, cooked according to the package directions,

Serves 6

Quick pickled veggies: finely slice or julienne 1 zucchini (or a Lebanese cucumber), 1 carrot (or a small red capsicum/pepper) and 1 onion (or half if very large), either red or brown.. Add ¼ cup vinegar, ¼ cup sugar, 1 tsp salt and enough water to just cover them. Make at least 2 hours before serving. Keeps for a week in the fridge.

Mexican Chicken Lasagne

My Chilean friend Pia made this for one of our Spanish conversation monthly lunches. It’s similar to an Italian lasagne, but with Mexican flavours.

1 large onion diced
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red capsicum, deseeded and cut into strips (optional)
250g mushrooms, sliced (optional)
2 Tbs butter or oil
500ml cream
1 packet soft tortillas
Meat from 1 cooked chicken, diced
2-3 Tbs chopped fresh herbs of choice
2 cobs fresh corn (or use canned or frozen kernels)
1 tin tomatoes, chopped
1 small red chilli, finely chopped, or 1 tsp dried chilli flakes (optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 cups grated cheese e.g. cheddar

Preheat oven to 180°C. In a large frying pan gently fry onion and garlic with mushrooms or capsicum, or both, in oil or butter until softened, but not browned. Remove kernels from fresh corn, or drain off the liquid if using canned. Add to pan with cream, herbs, chicken and tomatoes. Add chilli if using and season to taste. Cook, stirring for a few minutes to thicken a bit, but not too much as you need the liquid which will soak into the tortillas.

Cover the base of a greased lasagne-type rectangular, oval or round dish with one layer of tortillas, cutting to fit. Spoon half the chicken sauce over and sprinkle with a third of the cheese. Then arrange another single layer of tortillas, followed by the other half of the sauce and another third of cheese. Finally arrange a third layer of tortillas over the top. The top can get a bit dry and crunchy so I suggest you dip the final layer of tortillas in water or milk to moisten them before arranging on top, then top with remaining cheese.

Bake for 30-40 mins or until golden and bubbly. Stand for 10 minutes then cut into squares or wedges and serve with a salad.

Serves 6-8

Chicken Livers with Fennel, Quinoa, Hazelnuts & Mushroom Purée

This recipe is from a book called Savour: Salads for All Seasons by Peter Gordon. The recipe was shared by an online cooking friend in Germany called Michael.

Having made it I think the quinoa is optional – you could easily leave it out – and I have increased the amount of mushroom purée because I don’t think there was enough for four. With the quinoa this makes a light but satisfying main course for 4 or it would serve 6 as an unusual starter. If you don’t have fresh sage or tarragon feel free to substitute other fresh herbs.

If you like chicken livers you will love this. If not please delete!

2 heads fennel, trimmed and thinly  sliced downwards
2 cloves garlic, crushed
8 fresh sage leaves, shredded
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Generous ½ cup quinoa, cooked and drained (optional)
Mushroom Purée:
20g butter
1 tsp grated ginger (I used a bit more)
250g mushrooms, sliced
1/3 cup creme fraîche or thick sour cream
Sour Cream Sauce:
1 Tbs fresh tarragon leaves, chopped
1/3 cup creme fraîche or thick sour cream
Chicken Livers:
40g butter
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
500g chicken livers, trimmed and halved
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup skinned and toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 190°C. Keep some of the fennel fronds to garnish. Mix fennel slices with garlic, sage, oil and season to taste. Tip onto a shallow oven tray lined with baking paper and spread out. Bake for 30 mins or until golden, stirring halfway through. Mix in the cooked quinoa (if using) and keep warm.

Meanwhile for the mushroom purée, heat butter in a frying pan and add the ginger and mushrooms. Cook, stirring from time to time, until soft and mushrooms are starting to brown. Tip into food processor (don’t wash the frying pan), add the sour cream and blitz. Season to taste and keep warm.

For the sauce, in a mortar and pestle, pound the tarragon leaves with a pinch of salt, then mix in the sour cream.

For the chicken livers, place half the butter in the pan where you cooked the mushrooms and add the onion. Cook, stirring until soft and starting to caramelise, then tip them out. Add remaining butter to pan and cook the livers, stirring, for about 3 minutes or until all the pink bits have gone brown. Return onions to pan and cook for a further minute, stirring. Add vinegar, nuts and season to taste.

To serve, divide mushroom purée between 4 warm serving plates, spreading it out into a neat circle. Top with the fennel mixture, then the chicken livers and any pan juices and finally top with the sour cream and tarragon sauce. Garnish with fennel fronds.

Serves 4