Chicken with Dates

My friend Ferne passed on an idea for a quick canapé to serve with drinks – dates with blue cheese and sesame seeds. Cut through one side of each date, remove the stone, fill with some blue cheese and sprinkle with the seeds. I used a creamy blue cheese from Aldi which comes in a half moon shaped pack and black sesame seeds rather than white. They were delicious and the leftover dates went into the chicken dish below.

 

2 Tbs oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, crushed
1 kg chicken thighs (skinless and boneless)|
1 can tomatoes (chopped if not already)
1 cup water
3 Tbs sherry
1 chicken stock cube
2 tsp cumin
1 cup dates, stoned and halved or quartered
To serve:
Rice, couscous or mashed potatoes
Chopped fresh parsley or coriander

Heat oil in a large deep frying pan and cook onion and garlic gently, until soft. Cut chicken into chunks, discrding any fatty bits. Add chicken to pan and continue to fry, stirring, until chicken has browned all over. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for  10-15 mins, or until chicken is tender, adding a little more water if necessary.

Serve with rice, couscous or mashed potatoes, garnished with the chopped herbs.

Serves 6

Variation: if preferred use about 1.2kg of whole chicken thighs with bone in and skin on or off.

Rocket Salad with Sweet Potato, Parmesan & Pine Nuts

Whenever we go to our daughter’s in Newcastle we eat lots of rocket. It grows there like a weed. I much prefer the larger flat leafed rocket you can grow to the skinny wild rocket sold in supermarkets.

This salad is delicious with or without the sweet potato.

2 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
2-3 tsp olive oil
Salt
A big bowl full of rocket leaves, washed and spun dry
1/3 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
1 cup coarsely grated parmesan cheese
Dressing:
½ cup Extra Virgin olive oil
2 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix sweet potato chunks with the oil and a little salt, then spread out on a shallow baking sheet. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until starting to brown. Make dressing by shaking all ingredients in a jar with a lid.

Place rocket, sweet potato, pine nuts and parmesan in a large salad bowl. Add some dressing and mix thoroughly to coat.

Serves 4

Variations: use pumpkin instead of sweet potato. Use goat’s cheese or feta cheese instead of grated parmesan.

Beetroot Kebabs with Labneh and Dukkah

I’m a big fan of beetroot, labneh and dukkah, so when I saw a recipe in Gourmet Traveller using all three, I knew I would like it.

 

500g Greek-style yoghurt
1 tsp salt
3-6 beetroot, depending on size, peeled, halved lengthwise or left whole if smaller
1 Tbs olive oil
50g butter
Dill sprigs
3 Tbs Dukkah

To make the Labneh, mix salt into yoghurt then scrape into a sieve which has been lined with muslin or any thin fabric. A man’s handkerchief works well. Place the sieve over a large bowl, cover then refrigerate overnight to drain. Discard the liquid before serving.

Thinly slice beetroot using a mandoline or slicing blade on a food processor, then mix with the olive oil and salt to taste. Use your hands to make sure the oil is thoroughly distributed. Wear gloves if you’re concerned about the colour, although it does come off quite quickly. Thread onto skewers, allowing one or two skewers per person, folding beetroot if necessary, leaving smaller slices unfolded. Can be prepared ahead to this stage.

Preheat grill or barbecue to high, then cook the kebabs, turning occasionally, for 5 mins, or until lightly charred all over.

Melt butter in a small saucepan, then allow it to turn golden brown (3-4 mins). Mix in the dukkah.

Serve beetroot kebabs with a dollop of labneh to the side. Scoop out a little of the labneh to make a nest and fill it with some warm dukkah butter. Sprinkle a little dukkah around and garnish with dill sprigs.

Makes about 8 kebabs serving 4 or 8

Lemon Curd & Almond Bread & Butter Pudding

When I was growing up in England bread and butter pudding was a popular dessert. My mother made it regularly, using stale bread, butter, dried fruit, sugar, milk and eggs. Nothing fancy, but always one of my favourites. Using up stale bread, rather than giving it to the birds or throwing it away, was something you did automatically if you had lived through the Second World War.

This version is slightly more complicated with the addition of cream, nuts and lemons. Home made lemon curd provides an added zing, but if you don’t have time buy a jar from the supermarket. If you do find time to make a couple of jars it will keep in the fridge, unopened, for a couple of months and is a useful addition to a number of easy desserts such as Blueberry Parfaits.

1 loaf brioche bread
About 1 cup lemon curd
2 cups cream
½ cup milk
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
4 eggs
4 heaped Tbs sugar
Flaked almonds
Almond Butter:
150g blanched almonds (whole or slivers)
60g butter at room temp
1 heaped Tbs sugar
Finely grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
pinch of salt
To serve:
Fresh cream or crème fraiche
Icing sugar

Make or buy the lemon curd. Make the almond butter: place almonds in food processor and process till fine, then add remaining ingredients and mix well.

Slice brioche into 1 to 1.5cm slices. Use a cookie cutter to cut rounds as big as you can from each slice. Butter a deep 8-10cm pudding tin or dish. Place all the cut offs from the brioche in the bottom then spoon about half the lemon curd over the brioche. Spread one side of each brioche slice with some almond butter and arrange over the surface, nut butter side down and slightly overlapping, if you have enough slices to do so.

Place cream and milk in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. In a bowl whisk eggs, sugar, lemon juice and rind – just enough to combine, using a hand whisk. Pour in the hot cream and whisk to combine. Pour this mixture evenly over the brioche. Sprinkle with flaked almonds and set aside for an hour or more. Dessert can be made several hours ahead or even the day before and kept refrigerated and covered. A shower cap makes a great cover!

Preheat oven to 170°C. Bake dessert for 30-40 minutes or until puffed and golden. If it starts to get too brown, cover loosely with a piece of foil and/or turn the oven down a bit.

When cooked, spoon remaining lemon curd over the top, dust with a little sifted icing sugar and serve with cream.

Serves 8

 

Gluten-Free Dairy-Free Walnut Cake

This is an adaptation of a recipe I’ve had for decades. To make it gluten and dairy-free, for a friend who can’t eat either and who was coming for afternoon tea, I used oil instead of butter and walnut flour instead of flour. It was just as good.

 

4 eggs
¾ cup sugar
½ cup vegetable or coconut oil
2 Tbs cocoa
4 tsp baking powder
1½ cups walnut flour (see note below)
2 generous cups coarsely chopped walnuts
Syrup:
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
2 Tbs rum or brandy (optional)
To serve:
2-3 Tbs icing sugar
Fresh berries (optional)

Preheat oven to 180°C. Place eggs and sugar in a large bowl and whisk with electric beaters until thick and pale. Whisk in the oil, then fold in the sifted cocoa and baking powder, the nut flour and the chopped walnuts.

Scrape into a round 25cm (9″) cake tin, greased and bottom lined with paper. Or use a silicone pan which you don’t need to grease or line. Bake for 25-30 mins or until firm to touch when pressed in the middle, but don’t overcook. Spoon the hot syrup evenly over the hot cake then leave to cool in the tin. Remove cake from tin and dust with icing sugar just before serving. Keeps for 3-4 days in a sealed container.

Syrup: place sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat till sugar has dissolved, then boil for a minute or two. Add rum or brandy.

Note: make walnut flour by blitzing walnuts in food processor until fine. Measure after blitzing.

Variations: use pecan nuts, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias or pine nuts instead of walnuts. This recipe is a good way to use up leftover small amounts of various nuts.

Kale Salad with Orange and Sesame Dressing

Kale is a member of the brassica family, which includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and brussels sprouts. First cultivated around 2000 BC there’s nothing new about this green leafy vegetable, but in the past few years it’s enjoyed a revival as a super food.

Packed with vitamins and minerals, kale has high levels of vitamin K and C as well as iron.  Antioxidants make it great for lowering cholesterol and while you can cook it, just like spinach, the best way to maximise the nutritional benefits is to eat it raw.

The first kale salad I made was tough and chewy. I ate it because it was good for me, not because I enjoyed it. But the following day I discovered that the leftovers were delicious. The trick is to dress the salad several hours before serving, so the kale leaves soften. Then you add a bit of crunch to the salad just before serving with some nuts, seeds and crispy pita bread.

My brother David passed on this recipe from a café where he had lunch in Vancouver recently. The “recipe” came from dissecting and studying what was on his plate and taking notes. I’ve further adjusted his version with the addition of tahini to the dressing and crunchy fried pita bread on top.

1 bunch kale
1 cup seedless grapes (I used red ones)
2 cups thinly sliced raw cauliflower
2 spring onions or ½ red onion, sliced (optional)
Dressing:
Juice of 1 large orange (about ½ cup)
½ cup vegetable oil
2 Tbs soy sauce
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 Tbs tahini
1 Tbs sesame oil
2 Tbs honey (sugar or maple syrup)
1 clove garlic, crushed
Topping:
1 large pita bread
2 Tbs olive oil
2 heaped Tbs each flaked almonds, pecan nuts and sunflower seeds

Wash kale, spin dry then remove stalks and slice thinly. Cut cauliflower slices into smaller pieces. Place kale, grapes, cauliflower and onion in a large salad bowl.

Using a stick blender or food processor mix all ingredients for dressing till smooth, then pour into a jar.

Add enough dressing to moisten the salad, mix well then stand for several hours before serving. You will have enough dressing left for another time.

Meanwhile for the topping, separate the two sides of the pita bread and cut 2-3 cm pieces. Heat oil and add the pita, nuts and seeds. Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until pita is golden.

Give the salad a final mix, top with the pita mixture and serve.

Serves 4

Variations: use pine nuts instead of pecans or almonds. Use spinach instead of kale.

Fish with Lemon and Broccolini

This very simple fish dish allows the flavour of the fish to shine through. Choose very fresh firm-fleshed fillets. Roasted broccolini may not look very appetising, but it’s delicious.

¼ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
2 Tbs lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 600g fish fillets (in one piece or several), skin on
1 lemon, thinly sliced
1-2 bunches broccolini, ends trimmed
To serve:
2 Tbs capers

Preheat oven to 200°C. Mix oil, garlic, lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Arrange fish fillets skin side down on the paper. Arrange lemon slices over the fish and the broccolini around the fish. Brush fish and broccolini liberally with the oil and lemon juice mixture, using it all.

Place in the oven and cook for 8-10 mins or until fish is cooked through (test with a sharp knife) and broccolini has started to char around the edges. If broccolini is ready before the fish take it out of the oven and put the fish back for a few minutes.

Serve the fish sprinkled with the capers. Boiled or steamed new potatoes go well with this dish.

Serves 3

Zucchini, Goat’s Cheese and Pea Tart

Cleaning out the freezer I found a ball of shortcrust pastry I had forgotten about. Once thawed I looked in the fridge to see what I could find to make a savoury tart, without going shopping, and came up with this. Leftovers heated up well for lunch the following day.

If you have fresh peas in the garden by all means use those instead of frozen peas.

1 batch home-made shortcrust pastry (or substitute shop bought)
4 eggs
½ cup cream or milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbs chopped mint
350g coarsely grated zucchini (courgette)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
100g goat’s cheese or feta cheese, crumbled
To serve:
1 cup frozen peas, extra
Mint sprigs

Preheat oven to 180°C. Use pastry to line base and sides of a slice pan, about 20/25 cm by about 30cm. Place zucchini in a sieve and mix in a teaspoon of salt. Leave to drain, then push down on it to squeeze out excess liquid. Beat eggs with cream or milk and lemon rind. Add zucchini, peas and lots of pepper then pour evenly into the pastry case. Scatter cheese over the top then bake for 25-30 mins or until set.

Meanwhile pour boiling water over the extra peas. Leave for a minute then drain. Cut the tart into squares and garnish with the extra peas and mint sprigs.

Serves 6

Variations: use asparagus spears, thinly sliced on the diagonal, instead of the zucchini.

Roast Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, Herbs and Chilli

Looking for a different way to roast a chicken? This easy but delicious recipe uses a combination of flavours that works well. The skin goes crispy thanks to the lemon juice and any leftovers are nice cold.

A loaf of crusty bread and some roast potatoes or boiled new potatoes will pad this meal out (as my mother used to say) and ensure there’s enough for a family of six.

1 whole chicken
¼ cup Extra Virgin olive oil
Juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1 generous Tbs chopped fresh Rosemary
1 generous Tbs chopped fresh Sage
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ to1 tsp chilli flakes, to taste
To serve:
Fresh herbs
Lemon wedges (optional)
Vegetables such as buttered spinach and glazed carrots

Using poultry shears, remove backbone from chicken and discard. Place skin side up in roasting pan and press down hard with your hand so it flattens out. Mix remaining  ingredients and spread over both sides of the chicken, rubbing it in. Leave chicken to marinate for half an hour at room temperature, or up to several hours in the fridge.

Preheat oven to 180°C. Roast chicken for between an hour and an hour and a half. It’s ready when a skewer is inserted into the thigh and juices run clear and skin is crispy and brown. Time will vary according to the size of the chicken. Baste halfway through cooking time with pan juices.

Carve chicken and serve with lemon wedges and seasonal vegetables, such as buttered baby spinach and honey-glazed carrots.

For the spinach, stir fry a packet of fresh baby spinach leaves (or shredded larger leaves) with a knob of butter until thoroughly wilted, then season to taste.  For the carrots, cook them in boiling, salted water until tender, then tip off the water, add a knob of butter and a teaspoon of honey and shake the pan over the heat until glazed. Sprinkle with some sesame seeds – I used black ones.

Serves 6

Notes: if you don’t have fresh herbs use dried, but fresh are best in this recipe.

Caramelised Eggplant with Tahini, Pine Nuts & Lentils

As I’ve said before, if I were to become a vegetarian I would eat a lot of eggplants. They’re filling and there are so many different ways of using them.

Here’s a delicious recipe for you to try. As a main course, half a large eggplant is enough for most people. If you want to serve this as a side dish, buy smaller eggplants so you get more halves.

More delicious ways to use this versatile vegetable can be found in the Recipe Index under Vegetables. Do you have a great eggplant recipe you would like to share with Cafe Cat readers?

Base:
2 Tbs olive oil
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
350g dry lentils (Puy or similar)
4 cups vegetabe stock
2 tsp vinegar (any kind will do)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Eggplants:
2 large eggplants or more smaller ones (about 1kg or a bit more)
4 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbs finely chopped fresh rosemary
To serve:
2 Tbs lemon juice
½ cup Tahini paste
Water
2 Tbs chopped parsley
1 Tbs chopped rosemary
¼ cup pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the base heat oil in a large heavy-based pan and add all the vegetables. Cook gently for 10-15 mins, stirring regularly, until softened. Add the lentils and stock then simmer for half an hour or until the lentils are just tender. Add a little more water as necessary. When lentils are cooked and most of the liquid has disappeared add the vinegar and continue to cook for a few minutes, stirring. Season to taste.

While lentils are cooking pre-heat the oven to 200°C. Cut eggplants in half lengthwise and arrange them in a baking tin. Slash them all over with a sharp knife in a diamond pattern. Brush the cut surfaces generously with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with rosemary. Bake for 25-30 mins until soft and browned.

Mix lemon juice into the tahini, then add enough water to give a thick pouring consistency. Season with salt and pepper. Place pine nuts in a dry frying pan and stir over moderate heat until golden.

Spread hot lentil mixture in a large serving dish (reheat if it’s got a bit cold) and arrange eggplants on top. Drizzle with the tahini sauce and sprinkle with the parsley, rosemary and pine nuts.

Serves 4 as a main course