Peanut Chicken with Rice

This tasty family recipe takes almost no time to prepare. Serve with a salad or green vegetable.

If anyone has a peanut allergy, use cashews.

1 kg chicken thighs with skin and bone (see note below)
1 cup long grain rice
2½ cups water mixed with a chicken stock cube
½ cup peanuts (or cashews)
½ cup Hoisin sauce
2 Tbs rice wine vinegar (or balsamic vinegar)
½ cup water or white wine

Trim chicken pieces of any excess fat and place in a bowl. Preheat oven to 180°C. Place rice, water and crumbled stock cube in a baking dish and stir to combine. Cover with foil and bake for 30 mins.

Meanwhile place peanuts, Hoisin and rice wine vinegar in food processor and process until fairly smooth. Scrape into the bowl with the chicken and mix well.

When rice has cooked for half an hour, arrange chicken pieces over the top, skin side up. The chicken should cover the rice in one layer with no gaps. Mix the half cup of water or wine into any marinade left in the dish and pour it over the chicken. Bake for 40 minutes without the foil, or until nicely browned and cooked through – test with a skewer or fork.

Serve with a salad or a green vegetable

Serves 4-6

Note: if preferred use skinless, boneless chicken pieces which will take slightly less time to cook.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Hummus

Hummus goes well with grilled or roasted meats, especially lamb. This quick and easy recipe for a mid-week dinner for two was inspired by British food writer Simon Hopkinson. It’s perfect for busy couples and is easy to double or triple for bigger families.

 

4 lamb cutlets or chops
Marinade:
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp dried chilli powder or flakes
1 small clove garlic, crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
To serve:
1 cup hummus (bought or home-made)
A few fresh coriander leaves
Extra virgin olive oil
A pinch of Cayenne Pepper
Steamed green vegetable (snow peas, broccolini, green beans)

Mix marinade, add the chops and turn to coat well. Leave for an hour at room temperature, or overnight in the fridge, turning them from time to time. Grill or barbecue the chops, or cook them on a lightly oiled griddle pan for 3-4 minutes each side, or until charred on the outside, but still pink in the middle.

Spread some hummus on two warm serving plates. Arrange the chops on top, two each. Drizzle a little oil around each serving and garnish with coriander leaves and a pinch of cayenne. Serve with a steamed green vegetable such as snow peas, broccolini or green beans.

Serves 2

Zucchini Fritters with Corn and Bacon

This recipe, from one of my favourite recipe websites called Mind Food, makes a delicious light lunch or dinner.

400g zucchini, washed and coarsely grated
½ cup self-raising flour
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
50g feta cheese, crumbled
1 egg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 rashers bacon, rinds removed
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cob fresh corn, kernels removed (or substitute frozen)
1 Tbs snipped chives
1/3 cup sour cream
Extra virgin olive oil to garnish

Sprinkle a good pinch of salt over the zucchini, mix through then leave to drain in a colander for 20 minutes or so. Squeeze out as much moisture as you can then place in a large mixing bowl with the flour, two cheeses, egg and seasoning to taste. You probably won’t need any salt having salted the grated zucchini.

In a large non-stick frying pan fry the bacon until crispy on both sides then drain on paper towels and keep warm. Place the corn in a bowl and cover with boiling water. Wipe out the frying pan then heat the tablespoonful of oil and fry the fritters for about 3 minutes each side, using about a quarter of the mixture for each fritter. Just scoop it out using two or three big spoonfuls for each. If the pan is large enough make all four at the same time. If not make two and keep them warm while you make another two. Drain well on paper towels, then arrange one on each of 4 warmed serving plates.

Drain corn and mix it with the chives, then divide amongst the four fritters. Top each with a dollop of sour cream and a folded slice of crispy bacon. Drizzle a little olive oil around each serving.

Serves 4

Variation: top with a slice of smoked salmon or trout instead of the bacon.

Char Kway Teow

We lived in Kuala Lumpur for three years in the mid-1980s. The street food sold by people called hawkers was fantastic and my favourite dish was char kway teow.

A delicious mix of rice noodles, prawns, egg, garlic and other flavourings, I’ve tried many times to make char kway teow taste exactly the way I remember it. Unfortunately I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not possible. Even my Malaysian friends agree with me. You need to go to Malaysia or Singapore for the real thing.

My recipe has been adapted and tweaked over the years to produce a dish which might not be 100% authentic, but which you can make easily at home with readily-available ingredients. In Malaysia they add blood clams, known as kerang. If you can find them that’s wonderful, throw them in, but I just leave them out.

Fresh rice noodle sheets which you cut into strips are available in Asian grocers, but the ready to eat rice noodles sold in most supermarkets work well. Not quite the same, but still delicious. If you’re going to make a trip to an Asian grocer for the noodles you will also be able to find Chinese sausage and garlic chives there, as well as all the sauces.

This recipe serves 2. If you need to serve more people, make another batch, don’t double the recipe.

200g rice noodles (see note below)
2 Tbs vegetable oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
12-15 peeled and deveined prawns (preferably uncooked, but cooked also work)
1 lap cheong (Chinese sausage) thinly sliced (see note below)
Good pinch of crushed dried chillies, to taste (or add a little Sambal Oelek paste)
2 eggs, beaten
2-3 tsp soy sauce, to taste
2-3 tsp kecap manis (see note below)
2-3 tsp oyster sauce
1 bunch garlic chives or spring onions
200-250g beansprouts

If using rice noodle sheets (available in Asian stores) cut them into 1cm strips and separate them with your fingers. If using ready to eat rice noodles, cut the end off the bag and zap it in the microwave for 1 minute.

If using garlic chives (available in Asian stores) cut them into 4cm lengths. If using spring onions, cut them into 4cm lengths, then shred them lengthwise.

Heat oil in a wok over high heat. Add the garlic, prawns and sausage and stir-fry over high heat for a minute or two. Add the noodles and the crushed dried chillies and toss well to combine. Let the noodles get a bit stuck and charred, before you scrape them off.

Push everything to one side, pour the eggs into the space and cook them like scrambled eggs or omelette, allowing them to set, then breaking them up.

Add the garlic chives or spring onions, the beansprouts and the 3 sauces. Start with a couple of teaspoons of each, taste and add more if necessary. Gently mix everything together. The beansprouts and chives or spring onions will still be raw and crunchy.

Serves 2

Notes: (1) in Australia shelf-stable (long life) rice noodles are located in the Asian aisle of big supermarkets under the Wokka brand. Inside the packet are two packets each weighing 200g. I used one for this recipe. You might also find ready-to-eat rice noodles in the refrigerated pasta and noodles section of your supermarket. (2) Chinese sausage is sold in a shelf-stable (long life) packet in the Asian aisle of Woolworths and Coles. (3) if you can’t find kecap manis (sweet soy sauce) use more ordinary soy sauce and add a good pinch of sugar.

 

Quick Lemon Loaf

I had a sudden urge to whip up a cake in Covid lockdown. We have heaps of lemons on our tree at the moment so I didn’t have to think too far about which flavour.

There’s just the two of us at the moment and no visiting allowed, so I didn’t want to make anything huge. This little loaf was perfect and SO lemony! Lemons vary in size and the amount of juice they produce, but you will need about 3 lemons for this recipe.

125g butter at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
2 eggs
1½ cups self-raising flour, sifted
Grated zest of 2 lemons
¼ cup lemon juice
Syrup:
6 Tbs lemon juice
6 Tbs icing sugar

Grease and line a loaf tin with baking paper, or use a silicone pan (shown in the photo) which doesn’t need to be lined. Preheat oven to 180°C. Mix butter and sugar in food processor until smooth and creamy, stopping halfway to scrape down the sides. Add the eggs and when combined add the sifted lour and lastly the lemon juice. Scrape into the loaf tin and smooth the top.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until golden brown and firm to touch in the middle. A skewer inserted in the middle should come out clean. Don’t overcook or cake will be dry and crumbly.

Meanwhile for the syrup mix the lemon juice and icing sugar in a small bowl. When cake is ready prick it all over with a toothpick or skewer to make holes right to the bottom. Pour the syrup slowly and evenly over the hot cake. Leave to cool.

 

French Onion Soup

In the early 1970s I was posted by the Foreign Office to work at the British Mission to the UN in Geneva for 3 years.

A large number of ski resorts are located less than an hour and a half’s drive from Geneva, in the French Alps. Every Sunday morning in winter a gang of us from work would clamber aboard one of the buses which left from the main railway station. At six thirty sharp the bus would head off to a different ski station each week. It was still dark and most of us caught up on sleep on the way.

By nine o’clock, when the ski lifts opened, we were all geared up with our rented skis and boots and ready to hit the slopes. The ski club which organised these expeditions had a number of excellent instructors. On arrival at our destination we separated into 3 groups: beginners, intermediates and advanced. Some lied about their ability in order to get the better-looking instructors. It was great value with the bus and the full day lesson all included in the price.

At lunch time we met at a nominated bistro and queued up for one of the hot self-service meals. An early start and all that physical exercise meant we were ravenous. Hearty soups, pizzas, toasted cheese sandwiches and French fries, with or without steak, were all popular ways of replenishing the energy we’d expended in the morning. My favourite was the French Onion Soup. Hot spiced wine and hot chocolate were amongst the preferred beverages.

It took me a few goes to get this soup right. Making it a day or two in advance really improves the flavour.

1½ kilos onions, peeled and thinly sliced
60g butter and 1 Tbs oil
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbs flour
2 litres beef or chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs dry sherry or brandy
12-16 slices French bread sliced 2 cm thick (or 6-8 larger slices of bread)
300g coarsely grated Gruyere or other Swiss cheese

In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, cook onions in butter and oil over low heat, stirring often and with a lid for about 15 mins, or until soft. Add sugar and salt and raise the heat to moderate. Cook for 30-40 mins, stirring often, or until deep golden brown. Add flour and cook, stirring, for 2-3 minutes. Add stock and wine slowly, stirring. Simmer, covered, for 30-40 minutes, stirring from time to time. Cool then refrigerate until ready to serve. Can be kept in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Reheat soup, adding sherry or brandy and salt and pepper to taste. Cover bread slices with grated cheese and grill until golden and cheese is bubbling. Ladle soup into 6-8 bowls and place one or two slices of the cheesy toast on each serving. This soup is best made a day or two before serving.

Serves 6-8

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

 

Tahini Cookies

The Middle Eastern paste known as tahini can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. Made by pulverising sesame seeds, it’s an integral ingredient in hummus, a dip we’ve all grown to love since it has become widely available in supermarkets and delis.

These very quick and easy cookies use tahini, combined with ground nuts and honey or maple syrup, and don’t contain any butter or oil.

2 cups ground almonds or walnuts (make in the food processor then measure)
½ tsp salt
¾ cup tahini
½ cup maple syrup or honey or half and half
2 tsp vanilla essence
To decorate:
Pecan or Walnut halves

Preheat oven to 150°C. Place ground nuts and salt in a bowl. Place tahini, maple syrup or honey and vanilla essence in a small saucepan and heat, mixing, just enough to make it smooth. Mix into the dry ingredients.

Pinch off pieces the size of a large walnut and roll into balls. Arrange on a biscuit tray lined with baking paper, leaving enough room for them to spread. Press each ball with your finger to flatten slightly, then decorate with a pecan or walnut half and press them in.

Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Cool then store in a sealed container.

Makes 16-20

Note: I didn’t have quite enough ground nuts so I used 1½ cups of ground nuts and ½ cup plain flour. If you want to make them gluten-free, just use ground nuts.

Minestrone

This traditional Italian soup is perfect for lunch or a light dinner in the cooler months of the year. Make a big pot at the weekend and serve it for lunch or dinner a couple of times through the week, or take some to work to reheat in the microwave.

There are as many recipes for minestrone as there are for bolognese sauce, so to a certain extent you can just use what you have on hand. Onion, garlic, carrot, tomato and celery are the basic essentials, while the other vegetables are mostly optional. If you have it in the fridge add it, but don’t make a special trip to the shops just to buy one zucchini or one potato.

In the minestrone I made for the photo I didn’t add any potato, zucchini, leek or spinach/cabbage. I did add frozen peas and the kernels from a cob of fresh corn which needed using up. The spiral pasta is bigger than the size I usually use in minestrone, but it’s what I had in the pantry. Vegetarians can just leave out the bacon.

Served topped with grated Parmesan and some crusty bread or toast, it’s guaranteed to warm the cockles of your heart, as my Irish grandmother used to say. In other words, it will give you a warm fuzzy feeling.

2 Tbs olive oil
1-2 onions, peeled and diced
1 leek, trimmed and diced (optional)
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2-3 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2-3 rashers bacon, diced (optional)
Kernels from 1 cob corn, or one zucchini, diced
2 cups frozen peas
2 cups shredded spinach or cabbage
1 large potato, peeled and diced (optional)
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tsp dried thyme
1 can cannellini beans, drained (or another bean)
2 x 400g cans tomatoes, whizzed in food processor
1 Tbs tomato paste
2 Tbs sherry (optional)
2 litres chicken or vegetable stock (or water + 2 stock cubes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2-3 tsp sugar
200-250g small pasta
To serve:
Grated Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh parsley

Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan, then add bacon and the diced vegetables, but not the frozen peas and spinach/cabbage. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until vegetables are al dente.

Add the rest of the ingredients, bring to the boil, then simmer until the pasta is cooked. Add more water as required and check for seasoning.

Serve the soup topped with grated Parmesan cheese and chopped parsley, with fresh bread or toast.

Keeps in the fridge for 4-5 days and improves in flavour. Add water as necessary on reheating, if the soup appears to be too thick.

About 8 servings

Chinese Sesame Noodles with Eggplant

These Chinese Sesame Noodles with Eggplant always leave me thinking that if I had to be a vegetarian, this is one of the dishes I would make often. Some vegetarian dishes are satisfying and others just don’t hit the spot.

The original version came from Australian cook Belinda Jeffery, cooking presenter on the TV show Better Homes and Gardens for many years. I’ve been making it for over 20 years and yes I’ve tweaked it slightly (I know, I’m incorrigible) and added the optional pine nuts which were suggested by Matthew.

Served at room temperature it’s perfect for a shared buffet or as a light family dinner. Also great for lunch boxes.

This week’s recipe is especially for Moya and John and my brother David.

2 large eggplants, cut into 1cm thick slices
3 spring onions, sliced finely on the diagonal
125g bean sprouts
A good handful chopped fresh coriander
450g fresh noodles (Hokkien or Singapore)
Lightly toasted pine nuts to garnish (optional)
Basting mixture:
2 Tbs sesame oil
2 Tbs olive oil
3 Tbs soy sauce
2 Tbs vinegar
¼ cup sugar
1 small red chilli, finely chopped (with or without seeds, up to you)
2 tsp finely chopped or grated fresh ginger (I tend to use more, like double!)
1 large clove garlic crushed

Cook noodles according to packet directions and drain. Preheat oven to 200°C. Mix basting ingredients. Arrange eggplants on two large shallow baking trays lined with baking paper. Brush both sides with the basting mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tender, brushing them again about halfway through the cooking time.

When eggplant is cool enough to handle cut into quarters, halves or thick slices and mix with remaining basting mixture. In a large shallow serving dish mix the eggplants with the noodles, bean sprouts, spring onions and coriander, keeping a little for decoration. Taste and add some extra olive oil or soy sauce, if necessary. Garnish with the reserved coriander and a few toasted pine nuts (optional, but they do add a nice bit of crunch) and serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4